First and foremost, our hearts go out to the children, family and community of Carla Bowen and Christopher Butler, who were found murdered on Saturday morning, March 16 after a call to authorities by one of Bowen’s 12-year-old sons; her second son (she had twins) was also reportedly in the house at the time of the shootings. We are horrified, saddened and dismayed by this heinous act of domestic violence – the second and third domestic violence murders of 2013.
While details are still unfolding, we know that John Oliveira, who was Bowen’s ex-boyfriend, entered the house and shot Bowen and Butler multiple times before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. Given the previous nature of Oliveira and Bowen’s relationship, we must be sure to refer to this murder-suicide as what it is: the final act of domestic violence, for murder is the ultimate expression of the abuser’s need to control his partner’s behavior and suicide ensures that the abuser cannot be held accountable.
We are particularly saddened to hear that Bowen’s children were in the house at the time of the crime. We too often overlook the fact that domestic violence impacts the entire family, including children who may witness or hear the violence occur.
This case in particular highlights why we are fighting to restore state budget cuts that have been proposed to the services for children who witness domestic violence. In 2011 police in Rhode Island responded to 2,092 domestic violence calls where children were present, and more than half of the people staying in domestic violence shelters and transitional housing in 2012 were children. This is why it is critical that members and leadership within the RI General Assembly restore funding for essential services for children who witness domestic violence.
It is important to remember that these acts were not isolated incidents; they are part of a public health crisis here in Rhode Island, where domestic violence happens in every community. To prevent another tragedy, citizens and policymakers must make a commitment to say no more and help end domestic violence. The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s six local domestic violence agencies provide a wide array of services for victims – including 24-hour hotline support, emergency shelter, support groups, and assistance with the legal system. For more information about these organizations and services, call the statewide Helpline at 800-494-8100. And if you hear or see someone being hurt, call 911 immediately.
Judith Earle is Executive Director of the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center and Deborah DeBare is Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.