In two weeks, six women lost their lives to domestic violence in Milwaukee County.
They were mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.
All were women of color. All died by gunfire.
Cynthia Walker, 66, was killed on her front porch July 8. Prosecutors say her estranged boyfriend pulled the trigger.
O’keyin Riles, 42, and her daughter, La’Dasia Porter, 19, were shot and killed July 14 inside a home near West Ring and North 6th streets. Family members believe La’Dasia was trying to protect her mother during a domestic violence situation. Police say a suspect recently was arrested in Arizona.
Alwiya Mohamed, 20, was killed Tuesday by her husband, who then took his own life at their Milwaukee home. The couple had a 1-year-old son.
Ladda Donsanouphith, 49, was fatally shot Wednesday on the city’s south side in a domestic violence situation. She was a mother to three sons. The suspect later took his life.
And over the weekend, another woman was shot in Milwaukee in a domestic violence incident. Police say the 32-year-old victim has life-threatening injuries.
Relatives and friends have posted tributes to those who lost their lives. Among them was Charnell Riles, sister of O’keyin Riles, who has organized an online donation page for funeral expenses.
The death of her sister and niece came “totally out of left field,” she said in an interview. “No one knew what was going on. There’s a lot we don’t know about the investigation. A wound is still open.”
“They were loved by a lot of people in Milwaukee and family in Mississippi and Louisiana,” Riles added. “There’s been so many people reaching out and donating and sending their condolences and it makes my heart warm to know she made an impact.”
As their families and communities continue to grieve, those who work with domestic violence survivors say the recent tragedies reflect the ongoing need to reach people with culturally-specific services.
“We’re living through really, really hard times,” said Tammie Xiong, executive director for the Hmong American Women’s Association.
Donsanouphith’s death occurred near West National Avenue and South 35th Street, an area with several Laotian businesses.
“We’re really familiar with that area and so when we heard about this, it was completely devastating,” Xiong said.
‘We understand our communities:’ Culturally-specific options for domestic abuse survivors
The death of Mohamed, a Somali refugee who came to Milwaukee at a young age, has been a “wake-up call” for the local Muslim community, said Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition.
“Based on some conversation with some of the family members, it seemed like he had some jealousy issues,” she said. “But nobody ever thought it would escalate to something like this.”
The coalition has been running Our Peaceful Home, which serves Muslim families experiencing domestic violence, for three years but had struggled to get widespread buy-in with faith leaders and families preferring to keep things private, she said.
That changed last week.
At Mohamed’s funeral, Najeeb and other advocates distributed brochures in Somali and English. This week, community faith leaders will dedicate time in their sermons to the issue of domestic violence.
The efforts show the power of having culturally-specific resources so people do not hit barriers, language or otherwise.
“Each agency has a deep understanding of the community because they come from that particular community and understand the nuances and the specific practices,” Najeeb said.
The Hmong American Women’s Association and Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition are among a half-dozen agencies in the “We Are Here” campaign, designed to bring attention to those resources.
“We understand our communities because we work and live in them,” Xiong said. “All of our services are a direct reflection of what the community needs and wants.
Vaun Mayes, an activist who founded ComForce MKE, said the recent spate of violence shows even more resources are needed.
ComForce members are trained in de-escalation and have intervened in many domestic violence situations, helping people find shelter and other resources. Members also respond to homicides scenes.
It’s critical to have alternatives to the criminal justice system and larger domestic violence agencies because the current system “doesn’t work for everybody,” Mayes said.
He called on state leaders to do more to create community-based interventions in the wake of the recent deaths.
“It just highlights the fact that a lot of people have to suffer domestic violence in silence and without the proper support,” he said.
Supporting the victim’s families
Several victims’ families have set up GoFundMe accounts to help with funeral costs and other expenses. Click on the following links to donate:
Where to find help
- Our Peaceful Home, which serves Muslim families and is a program of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition, operates a crisis line at (414) 727-1090.
- The Hmong American Women’s Association, which serves the Hmong and southeast Asian community, has advocates available at (414) 930-9352 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
- The Asha Project, which serves African American women in Milwaukee, provides a crisis line from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at (414) 252-0075.
- The UMOS Latina Resource Center in Milwaukee offers bilingual, bicultural, domestic violence, sexual assault and anti-human trafficking supportive services and operates a 24-hour hotline at (414) 389-6510.
- The Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee operates a 24-hour confidential hotline at (414) 933-2722.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233.