Tuesday William House fatally shot his wife, Devinee House and 14-year old stepson Dakota Johnson before turning the gun on himself at the family’s home near Clayton. News and Observer reported that Devinee and William’s divorce was almost finalized and Devinee felt optimistic about her future away from her abusive husband. Along with the physical abuse and murder committed by William House against his wife and stepson, equally troubling are the various warning signs that apparently went ignored before the homicide/ suicide occurred. Increasing DV awareness among the public (including law enforcement) as well as accepting DV as a community issue-not a personal one-can prevent greater tragedies like this one from occurring in the future.
Devinee House called the police to her house four different times in the last twelve weeks while trying to deal with leaving her abusive husband. The sheriff’s office “did not know whether [deputies] ever referred William and Devinee House to a counselor during the four calls they answered.” This is unacceptable. Devinee House should have been immediately referred to her local DV agency (in this case, Harbor Inc.). Local law enforcement should know that the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship is when she is planning to leave her abuser. Assessing the lethality of Devinee Houses’ situation and referring her to a DV agency in her community might have helped save her life. Especially given the history of abuse in the marriage. The divorce paper claims that William House once threatened to kill Devinee and had a history of verbal abuse and humiliation of his wife. The constant verbal abuse and fighting of the couple should have functioned as an indicator of the danger of the situation and of Mr. House. If an abuser has ever threatened to kill or injure the victim, the risk of homicide is 15 times more likely.
Along with a lack of DV education, the myth that domestic violence is a “private family matter” still pervades our society, as the article clearly indicates. A neighbor said that he heard gun shots early Tuesday morning but didn’t call 911 because he didn’t want to get involved. Domestic violence is a community issue. As such, all members of the community need to help eradicate domestic violence. We can start by accepting that no one deserves to be abused. That’s Step #1. At FVPC, we believe that Step #2 as community citizens is to be active bystanders and reach out to our neighbors, friends, siblings who we believe are in trouble. An incident of battering is rarely an isolated occurrence. It also may be helpful to remind ourselves when we hesitate to get involved that physical violence is a crime regardless of who is involved.
Even with greater domestic violence awareness and community members acting as active bystanders, dv- related homicides will still occur. But this doesn’t mean that we should commit ourselves to helping everyone live violence-free. How do you think we as a community can strengthen our commitment to DV education and advocacy? What would you do if you heard gunshots coming from your neighbor’s house? Leave us your thoughts!