At least 16 lives — including those of nine children — have been lost to domestic violence in northeastern Oklahoma in the past three weeks, and support experts are urgently expressing one message: Reach out.
“It shows me people are feeling like they don’t have another place to turn,” said Tracey Lyall, executive director of Domestic Violence Intervention Services in Tulsa.
The slew of killings began in late January with the deaths of a family of four in Sand Springs.
Phillip Daniel Stephen Ross, 31, killed Anastacia “Staci” Lynne Smith, 41, and their children, River Gale Ross, 4, and Piper Ann Ross, 2, before killing himself either late Jan. 29 or early Jan. 30, police said.
On Feb. 1, two days after that family’s bodies were found, a Muskogee man is accused of fatally shooting five children — Jalaiya Pridgeon, 1; Jaidus Pridgeon, 3; Harmony Anderson, 5; Neveah Pridgeon, 6; and Que’dynce Anderson, 9 — along with his brother, Javarion Lee, 24. Three of the children were his own.
On Feb. 9, Sand Springs police discovered the bodies of Clarissa Kaser, 19, and Crystal “Grey” Kaser, 14, in a home along with the body of their father, David Kaser, 56, who is believed to have fatally shot them before killing himself.
A couple of hours later in Tulsa, police arrested Bradley Rosten, 60, after he is alleged to have beaten his girlfriend to death. Police identified her the next day as Rebecca Finehart, 36.
Then, on Feb. 10, a man is accused of strangling his grandmother in Bixby. Dalton Lee Hill, 27, was arrested Thursday on a complaint of first-degree murder.
The killings ripped through communities, surprised loved ones and left school children without their classmates. In their wake, friends and strangers planned vigils to collectively grieve and commemorate the lives taken.
Muskogee Mayor Marlon Coleman called for continued prayer and financial support of the survivors of the slaughter in that city, and Sand Springs Public Schools Superintendent Sherry Durkee released a statement regarding the recent deaths of children in her community.
“Our hearts are heavy for the recent tragedies of two Sand Springs families,” Durkee said. “As our community tries to make sense of the last few weeks’ events, we will stand ready to offer support and help whenever needed.
“We must make it our priority to lean on each other, love our neighbor, and support our students and families to the greatest extent possible. Sand Springs Public Schools will make counseling services available to any of our students or staff who want to talk with someone.”
The causes of the violence are likely as unique as the individuals involved in each of the ongoing investigations, but Lyall said they could be a sign of the times. The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, including over such things as schooling, career, familial and financial changes, along with added confinement due to recent icy weather, has the possibility of bringing many closer to their breaking point.
“This pandemic is wearing on people,” Lyall said. “There’s an end in sight, but it’s still pretty far away. There’s a sense of hopelessness we’re all dealing with. Some can deal with that easier than others, so it’s extra important to check on everybody if you think something is not right.”
Red flags include a sense of uneasiness or inability to reach a particular family member or friend, even if there wasn’t violence in a relationship prior to the pandemic. If one is unable to talk on the phone with a loved one, video call them or see them, it’s likely they’re being purposefully isolated.
Attention should also be paid to partners who have access to weapons or who have threatened to harm or kill in the past, as well as issues that could arise with recent changes to domestic life, such as custody changes, a divorce or issuance of a protective order.
Whether you’re the one using violence, the one receiving violence or the one with knowledge of violence, DVIS wants to hear from you, Lyall said. Family members of those suffering or possibly suffering violence are encouraged to call for help.
On a note of encouragement, Amanda Bradley, associate chief program officer for Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services, said more adults have been reaching out to the COPES emergency hotline this January than last January. Calls involving children, however, have declined slightly.
COPES, a program of Family & Children’s Services, also offers COVID-19 support resources through its main call line.
“There is help out there,” Bradley said. “It’s free to call us, and anybody can call at any hour. Nobody has to suffer and worry alone. Just call us, and we can get you connected to the right kind of services.”
Featured video: Man fatally shoots his two teenage daughters, himself in Sand Springs
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