Community involvement seen as key to stopping violent situations
By Erika Wurst email@example.com October 9, 2013 7:32PM
Abigail Villalpando, 18, a graduate of West Aurora High School, was found murdered on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013
Updated: November 11, 2013 12:23PM
In the last five years, Aurora police officers have investigated 15 homicides, a third of which have been committed by a loved one, or someone close to the victim.
It is a problem Aurora police are working diligently to solve. But, unlike gang or street violence, domestic violence is harder to detect.
“We have curbed gang violence, but this is still one we struggle with,” said Aurora Police Cmdr. Kristen Ziman.
On Oct. 4, a 68-year-old man was allegedly stabbed to death by his 44-year-old cousin. Amy Zuniga, 800 block of Front Street, faces two counts of first degree murder in the stabbing death of Reynaldo Galvan.
Zuniga has also been charged with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing her husband during the early morning incident, as well.
It is the city’s first domestic related homicide of the year, but that could change.
Police are also investigating the Sept. 3 stabbing death of 31-year-old Lamar House at a North Ohio Street home.
A 19-year-old woman, who was identified as House’s girlfriend in court records, was questioned and released following that incident, but State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said his office is still trying to determine whether or not charges will be filed.
Still classified as a death investigation, and not a homicide, House’s death doesn’t attribute to this year’s murder statistics. But, if that changes, his death could mark the city’s fourth murder, and the second domestic-related homicide of the year.
In January, police were also looking into the relationship between 18-year-old Abigail Villalpando and her accused killer, Juan Garnica. Villalpando was beaten to death. Her body was found burned in Montgomery. Police have found no relationship, outside of friendship, that Villalpando had with Garnica, 18, of Aurora, making her death not included in the domestic violence related death statistics.
But, in terms of random violence, the shooting death of 26-year-old Quiane Smith, on April 23, appears to be the only homicide of its kind this year.
Ziman said as neighbors, we see street violence, and are more willing to report it. It is when crimes are occurring inside a home that public responsibility gets diminished.
“Neighbors hear things and see things, and they close the blinds,” she said. “We need to stop closing the blinds, and look at this as an epidemic.”
In response to the rise in domestic violence related incidents throughout the city, police have amped-up their Domestic Violence Reduction Unit. The specialized unit began in the early 1990s to help address the growing problem of domestic violence, and continues to be a huge asset to the department, Ziman said.
Three full-time detectives are assigned to the unit, and their sole task is to read and follow-up on every domestic-related incident.
“Domestic violence cases are absolutely on the rise,” Ziman said. “We can try to attribute that, and make sense of it. We can look at statistics and do calculations, but there is no real answer as to why.”
In 2008, there were two homicides in Aurora, none of which were classified as domestic in nature. The following year, one of 2009’s four homicides fit into that category.
By 2010 and 2011, that statistic changed.
Of 2010’s four homicides, half were domestic related. 2011 had the same statistic. Two people were killed in 2011. One of those victims was allegedly killed by her boyfriend who had been convicted of domestic battery against her the previous year.
Seven months before Aurora resident Renee Perry was choked and stabbed to death in her Aurora apartment, a Kane County judge issued an arrest warrant for Delbert Cooper after he failed to show up for hearings related to his probation.
Prosecutors said Cooper and Perry had been arguing about Cooper’s cocaine usage before she was killed. Cooper also had a Cook County conviction for aggravated domestic battery against another woman at the time of his arrest.
Ziman said it is not uncommon for some offenders to continue their violent behavior, despite an arrest.
“Even though we have them in the system, the situation continues to escalate. You can see it happen. It is a train that can’t be stopped,” she said.
Still, Ziman said, “to watch this cycle is heartbreaking.”
Ziman said it is often hard for victims to reach out for help on their own. They are worried about financial repercussions, the possibility of sending the father of their children to prison, or immigration issues.
“They will think, ‘Can I deal with this violence so I can feed and clothe my children?’ That’s what makes domestic violence so difficult to overcome, and why they don’t report it,” she said.
Often, it takes a third party to intervene and make the call.
“It can never hurt (to report suspicious behavior),” Ziman said. “It may see like you are interfering where you shouldn’t, but people need to trust their instincts. Chances are, if you are sitting there thinking, ‘I should call the police,’ you probably should. The best case scenario is we prevent the situation from escalating further.”