People of all factions gathered at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center Wednesday evening to remember Melissa Catherine Brooks Batten and take a stand against domestic violence.
Melissa, a 36-year-old software development engineer in Microsoft’s Xbox division, was gunned down by her estranged husband, Joseph Batten, last month in front of her Redmond apartment complex. Joseph, also 36, then turned the gun and killed himself.
Melissa’s friends, co-workers, along with domestic violence advocates and survivors, public officials, police officers and firefighters gathered inside the community center’s auditorium to be part of Melissa’s touching and emotional vigil.
The vigil, organized by Eastside Domestic Violence Program (EDVP), featured moving testimony from one of Melissa’s close co-workers along with a powerful tribute song and poem.
Melissa, affectionately known as Missy by her family, loved cats and had a can-do attitude, in addition to an undying passion for her career. Melissa, a Harvard Law student, worked as a public defender in North Carolina from 2000-02, handling domestic violence cases. But she switched to the gaming industry when she moved to the Northwest, landing a job at Microsoft. She quickly became a favorite among co-workers.
“She was always so positive …,” said Laura Fryer, executive producer of Microsoft Game Studios who worked with Melissa. “She was someone everyone wanted to work with and have in their life.
“This doesn’t make any sense.”
Besides honoring the life of Melissa, the purpose of the vigil was to encourage the community to join forces in the fight against the senseless crime of domestic violence.
“First, we want to honor Melissa and encourage healing in the community,” said Barbara Langdon, the executive director of EDVP. “And second, this is a call to action. We need the whole community involved if we want to stop domestic violence.”
Melissa had a protection order against Joseph, moved away from him and had the proper support group in place to move forward in her life. But Joseph, who was not allowed within 100 yards of Melissa, did not take no for an answer and tracked her down and killed her in broad daylight.
N0 TOLERANCE FOR DV
The tragic homicide, the first in Redmond since 2004, shined a bright light on the ugly head of domestic violence and the intolerance that the community has against it. Melissa became part of the mind-blowing statistics – three million woman are hurt by their intimate partner each year in this country, according to Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, who gave an introductory speech at the vigil.
There have been 1,733 domestic violence incidents reported to the Redmond Police Department since 2005 – an average of 488 per year. From 1997 through June 2006, at least 359 people have been killed by domestic violence abusers in the state, according to the Washington State Fatality Review.
But as McKenna pointed out, domestic violence cannot be stopped by just the police.
“We’re not going to arrest our way of the domestic violence crisis,” McKenna said prior to the vigil. “We have to come together as a community.”
During his speech, McKenna said, “this is an issue that affects everybody, that means everybody has an obligation and responsibility to help end domestic violence.”
Langdon, along with Margaret Hobart of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence both spoke, reiterating McKenna’s words, continuing with the call to action.
Melissa’s closest survivors, her mother, Patricia, and older sister Ellen, who live on the East Coast, were in town earlier in the month, had already returned home and could not attend the vigil. But both gave their blessing for the vigil, Langdon told the crowd. Langdon then shared family anecdotes with the attendees.
City Council Vice President Pat Vache then spoke on behalf of Mayor John Marchione and the City Council. He talked about how this crime so close to home is a tragic reminder that domestic violence can strike anywhere – even Redmond. He then pointed out that one of the community’s top priorities is safety.
“We must recommit ourselves to making our community that safe place,” Vache said.
Following the calls to action from the many public figures, things got emotional at the vigil.
Theresa Wilson, an EDVP advocate and Karen Foley, a former EDVP advocate, performed “Do You Know,” a heartfelt song about the dangers of domestic violence. Wilson then sang “Amazing Grace,” one of Melissa’s favorite songs.
Wednesday’s program continued with Lucie Eldridge, Social Change Director, reading a words of “Imagine” by the Beatles, another one of Melissa’s favorite songs. The event ended with Fryer’s testimony and a moment of silence with a slide show of pictures of Melissa.
Many in the audience hugged and cried during the emotional vigil.
The vigil was a celebration of Melissa’s life and a reminder of the importance of agencies like EDVP.
Bellevue-based EDVP is one of the largest support service providers in the state.
EDVP served 5,64 victims of abuse in 2007, including 533 women and children in Redmond alone. EDVP’s 24-hour crisis line is (425) 746-1940.
EDVP, along with help from the community, is working hard to lower those numbers and put an end to domestic violence, Langdon told the crowd.
However she added that the challenge to end domestic violence is a tough one.
EDVP’s turn-away rate is currently 13 to 1, meaning for every one person sheltered, 13 are turned away.
“We want to put an end to domestic violence,” Langdon said. “We just need more of us to help those who need us.”