‘I can’t remember a year with this many children killed.’ Domestic violence fatalities soar

With the killings of three children this week, allegedly by their father, the Sacramento region is continuing with a disturbing surge in domestic violence homicides this year.

Since January, there have been eight fatal domestic violence encounters in the Sacramento area involving the deaths of 14 victims – eight of whom were children, authorities said. All of the adult victims this year in Sacramento were women and most were women of color.

“I can’t remember a year with this many children killed,” said Sacramento County Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Paul Durenberger, who heads the domestic violence prosecution team. “This year has been really, really difficult. The children involved alone is just staggering ... When you have a relationship with a person you are supposed to care about, it’s hard enough to envision. But when you have a relationship with a child, it’s hard to fathom.”

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and Sacramento Police Department reported a total of six domestic-violence-related homicides in 2016 – less than half of this year’s number with more than three months left to go. The Sheriff’s Department also reported more domestic violence calls nearly every month this year compared to last, and more calls in which weapons were involved.

Advocates say there is likely no single reason for the increase in killings this year, but stress that in many of the Sacramento incidents the women were attempting to leave or had left her abuser – a volatile period when domestic violence often escalates as the abuser seeks to keep a hold on his victims.

“When somebody is trying to leave, the person who is causing all this harm no longer has this ultimate power and control,” said Jacquie Marroquin, director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. “If you try to leave, people who cause harm up the ante.”

In Wednesday night’s triple homicide, police were called to a West Sacramento apartment building after the mother of the children called to report abuse. Police haven’t released details of what happened, but neighbors say Robert Hodges, 32, choked his wife Mai Hodges until she fled to the street, then killed their children, ages 11, 9 and 7 months, inside their second-story apartment. Hodges has been arrested and is being held in the Yolo County jail.

It was the fourth such fatal encounter this month. Within hours of each other on Sept. 1 two separate attacks in Meadowview killed three and injured two.

In the first, Deandre Chaney Jr., 23, is charged with attacking his former girlfriend, her 7-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son with a hammer. The boy died six days later. Chaney was caught in Nevada and is currently being held in the Sacramento County Main Jail. Court records show he had recently been released from jail after a parole violation and had pleaded no contest to failure to register as a sex offender in a 2016 case.

Also that day, Erica Wallace and her 17-year-old developmentally disabled daughter Kiara were found dead with their bodies partially burned in the bathtub of Wallace’s home on Janrick Avenue. A few days later, police killed the suspect – Wallace’s live-in boyfriend Eric Dwan Arnold – in a shootout. Wallace’s surviving daughter, Marcella Lucas, said her mother had known Arnold by the alias Dwan Hughley and had only recently discovered his subterfuge.

Lucas said her mother was planning on asking him to move out, and texted her that Arnold was “trippin” the night before the bodies were found.

On Sept. 11, a women was allegedly beaten to death by a male companion at the Crown Plaza Sacramento Northeast near Interstate 80. The suspect in that case, 35-year-old Lucas Sanchez, a Bay Area resident, was detained by off-duty officers who happened to be at a training session at the hotel. He was booked into Sacramento County’s main jail on murder charges and is being held without bail.

In June, Mau Lee Vue, 34, was shot and killed by her husband, Xor Xiong, in Rio Linda while her three children were home. Xiong then apparently shot himself, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

In May, Renee O’Neil, 35, was shot by ex-boyfriend Jerrod Hill the day before he was due in court for sentencing on charges of stalking and harassing her and her sons. He had stolen the gun he used from O’Neil in an earlier incident and committed suicide after killing her.

Before her death, O’Neil wrote a statement to the court about Hill. In it, she describes “months of onslaught” that forced her and her kids to leave their home of nine years, switch schools and live in fear.

“My sons and I have had to try to understand how someone who once lived with us, who we once trusted, could do such terrible things to us. I have had to explain to my boys this is not normal and there are still other people in this world who can be trusted,” O’Neil wrote.

The earliest incidents this year both happened in March.

On March 28, Joshua Anthony Childers allegedly shot a woman he was dating, Victoria Yasman Vasquez, 24, in the head in a south Sacramento mobile home park.

Five days earlier on March 23, Salvador Vasquez-Oliva, 56, allegedly killed his wife, Angelique Vasquez, 45, daughter Mia Vasquez, 14, son Alvin Vasquez, 11, and 21-year-old niece Ashley Coleman, in a quadruple homicide in South Land Park.

Both men Childers and Vasquez-Oliva are currently in custody.

Durenberger said that while women of color do often report domestic violence more often than white women, he sees it as more of an economic issue than one of race or ethnicity. Those in upper economic brackets may have financial and social resources to leave their abusers more easily.

“If you look at the people that report domestic violence, the majority of them are on the lower economic level,” he said. “The people on the upper end of the economic level, they have options.”

Cultural issues may also play a role in keeping women of color in abusive situations, advocates said. In Wednesday’s killing, the mother of the children was Hmong, as was Mau Lee Vue, the June victim.

In recent years, more Hmong women have been speaking out against domestic violence, though there is still a stigma deeply rooted in the Hmong culture, said May Ying Ly, founder of the Hmong Women’s Heritage Association, one of the first Hmong women’s organizations in the country. “When I was growing up, you keep things in the culture; we’d let the clan leaders handle it,” Ly said.

But several years ago, Hmong women from throughout California came to a domestic violence prevention workshop in Sacramento, and now organizations such as WEAVE and My Sister’s House “are very active in the community,” Ly said. “People are aware of resources – because of a change in the culture, you can reach out for help.”

Still, “the difficult part is getting over it, the emotional health component,” Ly said. Some Hmong women are reluctant to get help for trauma or depression that comes with feeling they are unable to protect themselves or their children, Ly said. “And with the stigma that comes after reporting it, you can get emotionally shunned by your own family. Women will always call the cops when it’s happening, but then they don’t press charges. And the end of the day you go back to the guy and hope he doesn’t kill you.”

Berry Accius, a black community activist in Meadowview who is working on domestic violence issues, said some in the black community also hesitate to talk about domestic violence.

“It’s one of those things we don’t discuss,” said Accius. “It’s definitely something that is taboo in the black community. ... People are in fear or embarrassed, and people want to protect that (abuser) just because they believe they can help that person change. I think it’s been so many generations and generations of trauma. If you see your mom taking abuse you think, ‘Oh well, that’s a man.’ ”

Julie Bornhoeft, chief development and marketing director for domestic violence nonprofit WEAVE, said bringing domestic violence into the open is important for community safety. A recent study by anti-gun violence advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found that the majority of mass shootings – those with four or more victims – between 2009 and 2016 were related to domestic or family violence. Of the seven mass shootings tracked by EGS this year, five have had a tie to domestic violence, said its director of research Sarah Tofte.

“We act as if it is only inside that home,” said Bornhoeft of domestic violence. “It’s incredibly short-sighted.”

Bornhoeft said in Sacramento, local law enforcement and advocates have been working well together to address the issue, despite the recent numbers.

Last year, prosecutors, advocates, law enforcement and others joined together to create a one-stop help center for domestic violence victims called the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center. It will hold a formal opening this winter, but helped 1,187 domestic violence victims in the past year by simplifying access to restraining orders, food stamps, investigators, therapists and other services.

“My boss used to say if we can get rid of violence in our families we can get rid of violence in our communities,” said Durenberger. “I believe that.”

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa. The Bee’s Ellen Garrison contributed to this report.

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