Utah's very foundation is based on supporting and sustaining families. This next year we can all work together to make Utah the safest state in the nation for children and families. —Peg Coleman, Utah Domestic Violence Council
SALT LAKE CITY — The faces of Utah's 2012 homicide victims are haunting.
From a 1-month-old baby shaken to death, to a 6-year-old girl kidnapped from her home and raped, to an 84-year-old woman stabbed dozens of times allegedly by one of her 13 grandchildren who called her "Honey," the victims represent a wide spectrum of Utahns.
Perhaps the most jarring statistic is that half of the more than four dozen killings in Utah last year stemmed from domestic incidents.
The number of domestic violence deaths has reached an "epidemic proportion," according to the Utah Domestic Violence Council, even though it says such deaths are among the "most predictable and therefore preventable forms of homicide."
"These horrific crimes affect innocent children, families, and church families as well as entire communities," its website states.
Peg Coleman, the council's executive director, said she is seeing more and more violence and hearing "awful stories of desperation."
"It's not talked about. It's seen as more of a family matter and that ... keeps people experiencing it in shame. We want to change that and show it's never OK," she said.
"Utah's very foundation is based on supporting and sustaining families. This next year we can all work together to make Utah the safest state in the nation for children and families. I'm hoping we can work together to make that our goal."
Coleman said domestic violence crimes are "terribly underreported" and are often generalized as offenses committed by men.
"People think it's a gender issue, a political issue, but it's a human rights issue," she said. "It's a public safety issue. It's about a tremendous amount of suffering."
The topic of domestic violence is often uncomfortable and many are afraid to talk about it, let alone report it, Coleman said.
"Almost universally people say, 'I can't believe this happening to me.' 'I can't believe this happening to my daughter or someone I care about.'"
The Utah Domestic Violence Council does offer services from a completely anonymous LINKLine, 1-800-897-LINK (5465). "We want people to call us before it becomes a criminal act," she said.
"We all get moved when we see these pictures of very sad animals who are suffering … no one wants to look at black and blue women and children," Coleman added. "We need to raise that awareness, that it's happening in our neighborhoods."
During 2012, police say at least six men killed their girlfriends. Yet mothers, daughters, girlfriends, brothers, fathers, stepsons and others also stand accused of killing fellow family members in Utah.
Among the domestic deaths:
• The mother of Virginia Hansen, 18, is accused of shooting and killing her as part of a botched suicide pact in West Jordan. Mary Hansen, who also shot herself but survived, was charged with murder.
• The next day, in an unrelated incident, Adria Jordan Parker, 25, and her 5-year-old daughter, Eliza Kate Parker, were shot and killed in Washington County by Parker's live-in boyfriend who then committed suicide.
• Marnie Stark was beaten to death in her Ogden home by her live-in boyfriend, Jeffrey Dene White, in front of his two young children. White later committed suicide in jail.
Stark's mother, Jessie Franich, said the family knew Stark was in an abusive relationship and feared it was headed to a "bad place."
"Sometimes you can tell them and tell them and it never works," Franich said.
She wishes she had done more but hopes people can learn from her daughter's tragic death and will leave a bad relationship sooner rather than later.
"You never know when you're going to get a call like we got," she said. "This is the kind of thing we think happens to everybody else. You turn on the TV and see it on 'Law and Order.' We're living it. It's hard to wrap your head around it. … I wouldn't wish this on anybody."
• Shantelle Reid was shot and killed in Murray, just two hours after police had checked on her while investigating reports of a fight. She reportedly told officers nothing was wrong. Her boyfriend, Ryan Robinson, is charged with murder.
Jay Reid said his sister had discussed leaving Robinson and moving to St. George. But days before her death, he said, he overheard Robinson allegedly threaten to kill both his sister and whoever helped her leave. Yet family members didn't believe he would go so far.
"I was in shock," Jay Reid said.
Her father, Wallace Reid, said her family had previously talked to her about leaving Robinson after learning about alleged abuse, but she was stubborn.
The Deseret News list of Utah homicides does not include those who were killed by police officers or automobile homicides, which are generally classified separately. The list does include one suicide because it was charged as a homicide after prosecutors say a man provided a gun to a suicidal woman who then shot herself in Emery County. Prosecutors also charged a Bluffdale man with negligent homicide after he handed a loaded rifle to his drunk wife, who then shot herself. He was charged and convicted this year, but the shooting occurred during 2011.
Utahns were also tragically reminded on more than occasion last year that violence has no boundaries. Several incidents that occurred outside of Utah had a profound impact on local residents during 2012: Josh Powell, husband of missing West Valley woman Susan Powell, killed his two sons before taking his own life in an inferno in Washington; 6-year-old Emilie Parker, originally from Ogden, was shot and killed along with 25 of her classmates and teachers, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Two teens accused of murdering a fellow West Wendover High School student took a plea deal in Elko, Nev., earlier this year. Toni Fratto was sentenced to at least 18 years in prison for the death of 16-year-old Micaela "Mickey" Costanzo. Costanzo's violent murder rattled the small Nevada border town of Wendover. A few months later, co-defendant Kody Cree Patten pleaded guilty and avoided a potential death sentence.
The year 2012 was a year that started with the fatal shooting of Ogden police officer Jared Francom as police served a search warrant at an Ogden home. Five other officers were also shot but survived.
In March, the badly beaten body of 15-year-old Anne Kasprzak was found in the Jordan River. Despite two quick arrests, no one has yet been charged with her death.
In June, a parent's worst nightmare came true and a community was left in shock when a man entered the West Jordan home of Sierra Newbold while the family was asleep and kidnapped, sexually assaulted and killed the 6-year-old girl, police said.
In December, the year ended much like it started for Ogden residents: lining the streets to honor one of their own. A memorial service and funeral were held for 6-year-old Emilie Parker, who had recently moved to Connecticut and became one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
The tragedy in Newtown was something that affected citizens and law enforcers alike. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said so many of his officers were talking about what happened that he was prompted to take action.
"So many of our employees were talking and concerned about the Connecticut incident that we had to put out a letter internally talking about counseling and detailing our effort to protect and manage these situations — and this happened 3,000 miles away," he said. "What I was hearing from our commanders that there was a lot of talk going on how it really seemed to hit everybody."
Despite these high-profile incidents, Winder doesn't believe Utah or the nation is any less safe than it was before or that Utahns live in a more violent era than before. The difference today, he said, is that citizens are more instantaneously aware of what's happening in the world around them.
"Everybody is looking at their phone all the time, and there's Twitter and there's Facebook … and the world is now our neighborhood, specifically the U.S. And we're much more aware of what's going on with our 'neighbors.' So because of that, if you look at it in the macro, it's all going to heck in a hand basket. I just disagree," Winder said.
As another example of how of a tragedy spreads in this age of social media, Winder said he had heard that schools in Washington County were placed in lockdown following the public suicide of a teenager outside Bennion Junior High in Taylorsville in November.
How to respond to the violence that exists is something that will be debated. Winder said more resources need to be devoted to social services such as after-school programs for juveniles or drug and alcohol treatment programs.
"I personally believe we need to start looking at the causes of violence rather than the effect," he said.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said all felony filings in his office for the first 11 months of the year were up 8.5 percent over last year, with a "surge" of cases being filed in the second half of the year.
There were also a number of high-profile officer-involved shooting incidents during 2012, including:
• A 15-year-old boy with mental health issues, Sean Morrison, was shot and killed by Unified police officers after firing several shots at police officers while wearing body armor, a large trench coat and a ski mask and toting a .45-caliber handgun. The shooting was determined to be legally justified.
• In September, police shot and killed 39-year-old Anthony Mayhew after he threatened to injure officers with a bomb at a downtown Salt Lake TRAX platform. The shooting was also determined to be justified.
• In November, West Valley officers shot 21-year-old Danielle "Dee Dee" Willard. The incident remains under investigation.
Despite the high-profile incidents, Gill said that through mid-December, his office investigated less than half as may officer-involved shootings as it did during 2011. He attributed that to special training offered by his office to law enforcement agencies throughout the valley, something he plans to continue next year.
"We're going to pony up more than a quarter of a million dollars. We're putting our money where our mouth is to keep officers safe," he said.
Part of that training includes a new shooting simulator that teaches officers when to shoot and when not to shoot. The new simulator teaches officers to be aware of their entire surroundings.
"In the real world, the threat is 360-degree scenario," he said.7 comments on this story
Gill also plans to establish a new task force consisting of investigators from several Salt Lake County law enforcement agencies to investigate officer-involved shootings. The task force will receive training that will bring "uniformity and consistency" in the way officer-involved shootings are investigated, he said.
Winder is supportive of the plan.
"The knowledge based with officer-involved shootings has really improved. The ability to understand both good and bad shootings has really improved. It's important we learn the latest and greatest and are all on the same page," he said.