Eight deaths in four days: It’s the worst kind of reminder that domestic violence remains a deadly reality in Pierce County.
What happened in a Spanaway family early this week included an unusual horror: the asphyxiation of a 5-year-old boy. His father and mother – a soldier and a nurse – both died Tuesday after Sgt. David Stewart shot Kristy Sampels, then turned the gun on himself at the end of a high-speed chase on Interstate 5.
Police discovered the body of their son, Jordan, locked in their house, wrapped in a blanket. Bruises on his body pointed to past abuse. Investigators are still trying to piece together exactly what happened, but it appears that either father or mother pulled a plastic bag over his head and perhaps watched him die.
Children were also involved – as distraught witnesses – in two other fatal episodes of domestic violence. Police have accused a Roy woman of murdering her live-in boyfriend last Friday; a 13-year-old girl was present. On Sunday, also in Roy, a man shot his live-in girlfriend and then himself, reportedly with four children present.
The bizarre details of the Spanaway case have captured public attention, as has the random coincidence of so many deaths in so few days. Sadly, the underlying narrative – spouses, live-ins and children brutalized at home – is so common that it’s almost background noise.
If more people knew what to look for and what to do, lives would be saved. Surely someone must have spotted warning signs in the marriage and home of Stewart and Sampels.
Jordan was pulled out of kindergarten months ago; neighbors reported that he and his sister rarely played with other children; the family had isolated itself behind drawn blinds. It’s hard to believe that not a single relative, friend, acquaintance, fellow soldier or Army superior had picked up on a pattern of disturbing, dangerous behavior.
Much of the discussion about domestic violence focuses on encouraging victims to seek help. That’s essential, of course. But some victims can’t seek help – a 5-year-old boy, for example. Older victims may be so intimidated, isolated or humiliated that they don’t have the emotional wherewithal to make a lifesaving phone call.
Anyone who sees clear evidence of domestic violence ought to make that phone call on their behalf. A website maintained by the City of Tacoma, tacomadvhelp.org, is a good starting point, as is the YWCA Pierce County hotline, 253-383-2593.
Many agencies offer support, advice, intervention or shelter – but they can’t see through drawn blinds. Victims need friends who are willing to act. It shouldn’t take a spectacularly horrifying death, such as Jordan’s or Crystal Judson’s, to persuade the public to pay attention.