HOULTON – The candles in the luminarias provided some of the only light in the darkness on Main Street Thursday evening, as white bags with tiny candles inside them lined the sidewalk during the Battered Women’s Project’s Domestic Violence Awareness Walk and Vigil.
One by one, each of those candles was snuffed out, as quickly as the lives of the victims they represented.
The reality of how bright such victims were in life – victims such as Stephen Vance Ketzel, Vicki Morgan and Jennifer Smith – and how quickly each life was lost illustrated the devastating effects of domestic violence on residents of communities across the state and nation.
The annual ceremony, which began at Houlton Recreation Center and ended at Visions on Main Street, included speeches, a candlelight walk and the lighting of luminarias to remember those who have died as a result of domestic violence. The event was held in the midst of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Nearly 100 people attended the indoor portion of the ceremony at the recreation center. During the hour-long ceremony, the audience heard testimonials from several women who have sought the services of the project over the years.
Flanked by her adolescent daughter, one woman told of how she left her batterer’s abusive grip four years ago.
“I made a life-changing decision to become my own person,” she said.
She added that she still sometimes fears for the safety of herself and her children, but said that her abuser “doesn’t control my thoughts or make me live in fear anymore.”
Donna Baietti, the executive director of the Battered Women’s Project, thanked the public for its support, and said residents are more aware of domestic violence than they were in the past.
“Our community got smart about domestic violence,” she told the crowd. “We are not being duped by batterers anymore.”
The Battered Women’s Project then led a candlelight vigil from the recreation center down to Visions, which is home to the Blue Moon Gallery. The gallery partnered with the project earlier this month to present “A Walk in their Shoes,” an art exhibit geared toward raising awareness about domestic violence.
Outside the Visions building, the names of some who have died as a result of domestic violence were read aloud as the crowd stood silently, participants blowing out a candle after each victim’s name was read.
The casualties were male and female. There was Vicki Morgan, 19, who was sitting in a truck next to her sister Christina Gray, outside a Patten convenience store in February 2001 when Gray’s husband shot them both to death before turning the gun on himself.
There was Stephen Vance Ketzel, 2, who died in September 2004 after suffering deep internal injuries to his abdomen. The boyfriend of the child’s mother pleaded guilty last year to manslaughter in connection with the toddler’s death.
There was Jennifer Smith, 11, who was sexually assaulted and strangled to death by her father in Monticello in 1993. He is serving a life sentence in prison for the slaying.
Other such walks and vigils have been held throughout the month in Madawaska and Caribou. The next vigil will begin at noon Wednesday, Oct. 25, at Riverside Park in Presque Isle.