Vigil honors victims

By Ed Brock

Like so many other survivors of domestic violence, Maria Ortiz suffered abuse from her husband for far too long.

”I wanted to divorce but I have two children so I stayed with my marriage,“ Ortiz said during a Thursday night candlelight vigil in Jonesboro to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

And 37-year-old Ortiz also very nearly became one of so many victims of family violence, the ones who did not survive. Unbeknownst to Ortiz, her husband planned to murder her.

”I was in bed asleep when he shot me twice in my head,“ Ortiz said, speaking to a crowd of fellow survivors and those dedicated to helping them. ”I lost my eye, but I survived.“

Eight months have passed since the shooting, and while her ex-husband and assailant serves a five-year prison term, Ortiz is putting her life back together. But along with the terrifying memories, Ortiz carries another reminder of her ordeal.

One of the bullets remains lodged in her neck, too close to the spine to be safely removed.

Now she's living for her two daughters, 6-year-old Kacie and 8-year-old Hope, and she considers that life to be a miracle.

”I guess God had a reason for me to still be here,“ Ortiz said.

On Thursday night she shared a mission with the other men and women at the vigil, to remember 93 people in Georgia who were killed by loved ones in 2004 and the 67 who have met that same fate so far this year.

”We remember them, we remember their names,“ said Pat Altemus, executive director of the Securus House shelter for victims of spousal abuse in Clayton County.

Each participant of the vigil, including Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott, took turns reading those names as they stood in a circle in front of the historic Clayton County Courthouse, candles flickering in the breeze.

The purpose of this month, Altemus said, and of all their work is to give survivors of domestic violence, especially those still in abusive situations, a voice.

”When they discover their voices they can say ‘I'm worthy, I need to inflict self-love on myself, I can be OK,“ Altemus said.

The vigil was the first of several events planned for this month.

On Oct. 10 the shelter will begin its ”Clothesline Project,“ a display at the Clayton County Headquarters Library on Battlecreek Road of T-shirts bearing the stories of domestic violence survivors.

”Those are people who broke the cycle,“ said Mary Thomaston, treasurer for the shelter.

On the same date Securus House will also begin its ”Hope Line“ cellphone collection drive sponsored by Verizon. Residents can donate their old cellphones to be used to raise funds for the shelter.

The month's activities will culminate in Securus House's Third Annual Domestic Violence Forum and Brunch on Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Jonesboro First United Methodist Church at 142 S. Main Street. The cost of the forum is $25 a person at the door. Call (770) 960-7153 to RSVP.

The Haven House shelter in Henry County is also following the mission of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

On Oct. 11 the shelter will have a special program at the Henry County Chamber of Commerce breakfast that begins at 7:30 a.m. in the Chamber-Hudgins Room behind the chamber building at 1709 Ga. Highway 20 in McDonough. The cost of admission is $8. Call the chamber at (770) 957-5786 for reservations.