August 13th is the anniversary of the murders of Shanann Watts and her children, Bella, Celeste, and Niko, and I had already intended to post, both to remember them and also, as always, to bring light to domestic violence issues and provide resources.
I have written about Shanann and her children – and the awful things that happened to them – several times over the past few years, including one lengthy post about the entire tragedy, if you are unfamiliar:
Netflix has since also released a documentary, “American Murder: The Family Next Door,” that reconstructs the events from police footage, texts, Facebook posts, and other sources.
The Watts family murders hit me particularly hard I think because I remember seeing the news the day Shanann and the girls went missing and following the story from there, hoping it was a misunderstanding, then quickly realizing it wasn’t – and ultimately finding out just how horrifying it was at the hands of their husband and father, who wanted a new life with his new love.
It was just a devastating situation.
At the time of their deaths, Bella was four and Celeste was three. Shanann was also 15 weeks pregnant with her son, whom she had named Niko.
(An aside: homicide is actually the leading cause of death of pregnant women in the US and 77% of those occur in the first trimester according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. For more information: Domestic Violence and Pregnancy Fact Sheet. )
Then, as I was preparing to write about Shanann and her children this week, just a few days ago, in my small town, there was a domestic violence related murder/suicide that occurred on the first day of school, apparently immediately after the children had been safely dropped off.
It is a tragedy for everyone involved, especially the children, losing both parents in this way.
Domestic violence is heartbreaking and it is everywhere.
While the rates of domestic violence reported were already beyond distressing, with 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men having been abused in their lifetimes, the situation has gotten even worse during the pandemic with what is being called the “shadow pandemic.” Perhaps owing to quarantines as well as economic hardships caused by COVID, domestic violence – and violence against women in general – appears to have increased significantly.
As the above link from the UN states, at the same time, resources may have also been diverted from helping victims of abuse to meeting the COVID crisis (understandably in an absolute emergency) – but this still leaves victims of abuse in a terrible way.
Considering this “shadow pandemic” and also just how pervasive domestic violence is in our society, there are several things I want to leave here.
First, just for everyone’s consideration and awareness, here are some of the early warning signs of a potential domestic violence situation. Especially for young women, these red flags should really be considered closely in a relationship.
Second, I want to say this: trust your instincts. I don’t mean a person needs to be paranoid or act on whims. However, in the Watts case, though Chris Watts had no history of domestic violence, his behavior for several (several) weeks leading up to the murders was so bizarre and out of character that Shanann was consistently texting her friends that something was seriously amiss. Perhaps even more noteworthy, he had been so cold and withdrawn visiting family the previous week in North Carolina that Shanann’s mother really wanted her and the girls to stay with her rather than return to Colorado with Chris. That is quite a strong feeling for someone they had always been so close to (and who had absolutely no history of violence) – indicating a huge change. Again, when something is really off, go with your gut.
Also, this graphic is really helpful, with signs of abuse as well as a safety plan.
If you are in need of help, this is the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Be aware too that all cellphones – even deactivated ones – will work to dial 911 in an emergency.
Finally, additional resources are listed on the resources page here on the blog.
Be well, everybody. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Grace and Blessings.