Victims remembered during stalking awareness month

By Michael Davis

Shamika Riley won't get to see her three small children grow into men and women. They missed having their mother at home for Christmas and New Year's.

Riley, 24, was found dead just inside the grounds of the Atlanta airport in a pond off of Loop Road Dec. 30. But she went missing Dec. 18 and Henry County battered women's shelter director Marjorie Lacy believes she was the victim of a stalker.

The Atlanta Police Department said she died of an apparent stab wound. Police are still running down leads and interviewing people who knew her in an attempt to find her killer, said spokesman Sgt. John Quigley.

"She was [found] very, very close to where she lived," Quigley said.

Lacy said Riley came to the Flint Circuit Council on Family Violence emergency shelter, Haven House, last July. She was the victim of domestic abuse.

Though she left the shelter in September and got an apartment in College Park with a roommate, she continued to visit Haven House for counseling. Lacy said the shelter was preparing to give the family some Christmas items the day she disappeared.

Riley was encouraged not to strike up relationships with men for the time being, but she may have ignored that advice.

Friends she had met at the shelter and continued to be in contact with called Haven House to report her missing and that's when Haven House called police.

"When they went out there, they found her purse, her keys, her cigarettes on the table and there had been some signs of forced entry – but no Shamika," Lacy said, adding her three small children were left there alone which alarmed her friends.

January is Stalking Awareness Month and Lacy said incidents like this are what awareness efforts are trying to prevent.

"We think of it as a celebrity thing but it's not. It's a very common problem," Lacy said.

The National Center for Victims of Crime's Stalking Resource Center says more than 1 million women and nearly 400,000 men are stalked annually in the United States. The group said 9 percent of stalkers either kill or threaten to kill their victims or victim's pets.

The Stalking Resource Center notes that civil law suits can be an effective tool for victims of stalking when the stalker has not been formally charged with the crime.

Stalking is a misdemeanor crime in Georgia, except where there are aggravating circumstances such as the violation of a restraining order, said Henry County police Officer Angie Mayo, a domestic violence specialist. Aggravated stalking, when a court order is violated, is a felony crime punishable by not less than one year in jail but no more than 10.

Henry County had about 40 stalking cases during 2003 (numbers were not available for 2004) but that does not take into account cases where other domestic violence crimes, such as battery, were also charged.

Mayo said a victim is most at risk of inciting violent behavior when they try to leave an abusive situation.

"Most of the time, they've been battered and battered and they're ready to leave. But the aggressor still follows them around and won't let go," Mayo said, adding, "That is the most dangerous part of the cycle of domestic violence."

Capt. Chris Butler with the Clayton County Police Department, said the agency worked 199 cases of reported stalking in 2003.

Adding that in very few cases, the victim does not know the aggressor, he said the victim should notify police immediately if they believe they are being stalked.

"They shouldn't let it sit," he said. "They should take action."

Flint Circuit's Lacy said victims of stalking who are served by Haven House are given a journal and encouraged to document each time an incident of stalking has occurred. She said the log can help build evidence for a case against a suspected stalker. She said they also use some of the tips provided by the Stalking Resource Center.