It was an emotional night as a small group of 25 people gathered inside the south shelter along St. James pond to remember victims of domestic abuse.
A small shrine was set up for each of the seven members of Watonwan County.
“Instead of saying people’s lives were lost, we should say that people’s lives were taken,” said Jason Mack, director of the Committee Against Domestic Abuse.
CADA is in their 39th year serving communities, and estimate that they help 2,500-3,000 people in south-central Minnesota alone.
Mack and mayor Gary Sturm stressed not only getting more active in the community to raise awareness, as well as being sure to report domestic abuse if you see it.
“For as every woman, child and man in America has the right to live free from violence in their homes and communities,” said Mayor Sturm.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that one million women are victimized by domestic violence every year, and that less than half the crimes are reported to the authorities.
Sturm also signed a proclamation, making October Domestic Abuse Awareness Month in the city of St. James.
County attorney Stephen Lindee also touched upon the impact of domestic violence in Watonwan county. According to Lindee, 47 people in Watonwan County were charged with domestic abuse in2017, and 45 were charged in 2016.
“Those numbers are way too high, and are not acceptable,” said Lindee.
The county has a full time victim witness coordinator, right in Lindee’s office, which can provide protection for those who have been victimized. The county has also formed a domestic assault response team, which looks for ways to prevent domestic violence and work together to stem to the tide of domestic violence.
Shirley Knudson, Committee Against Domestic Abuse Watonwan County Advisor, read off each of the names of the 11 victims who were murdered as a result of domestic violence in the state of Minnesota.
“I think it’s important that we remember their names and what happened to them,” said Knudson. “We need to make the public aware of just how serious and deadly domestic violence can become.”
Knudson also read the names of the eight victims from Watonwan County. “These people were our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors, our family members and our loved one. In some way or another, domestic violence touches each and every one of us.”
Anna Gronewold, a family member of two of the victims, spoke about being an advocate for raising awareness for domestic abuse.
“Just two months after they passed away, I went to a rally at the Capitol for domestic violence,” said Gronewold. “At that time I was asked if I would consider giving testimony to the Senate.”
Just two days later, Gronewold was at the Senate, talking to politicians. Shortly after, the Domestic Violence Bill was altered to further prevent and raise awareness. Gronewold has traveled all over the state to talk about domestic abuse.
“Domestic violence affects anyone. It’s not just the people who live in a rundown trailer park or that live in a fancy apartment building,” said Gronewold. Gronewold and her family will be featured in an upcoming Netflix documentary.
“We can be filled with sorrow, but we can also find in the sorrow,” said Gronewold. “I feel blessed because I have the opportunity to see Ashley’s children every day, and I see the positive attributes that Ashley gave them.”
Gronewold talked about operation recovery, which provides counseling for families.
The night concluded with a song, written and performed by Jerome Thompson.
“You never get over domestic violence, but you can get through it.”
For those looking for help, they can call the Watonwan Victim Services Office at (507) 375-3040. CADA also provides a variety of numbers for those looking for help. Those numbers can be found at www.cadamn.org.