FAIRMONT - Nine red silhouettes stood in the center of Five Lakes Centre, each with a woman's name and story of how she lost her life to domestic violence.
In the mall parking lot, a dozen doves were released, representing victims past and present.
Two sons - one grown, one still a boy - each released a dove in honor of their mothers, killed in acts of domestic abuse.
TAKING?FLIGHT?— Joey Rocha, left, and Bradey Schmidt release doves Wednesday during an event recognizing Domestic Abuse Awareness Month at Five Lakes Centre in Fairmont. Rocha was honoring his mother, Nicole Mosser, while Schmidt was honoring his mother, Linda Norman. Both mothers were victims of domestic violence.
October is Domestic Abuse Awareness month. In 2010, Minnesota had 15 women, seven children and two men die as a result of domestic violence. In 2011, there have been 21 deaths statewide. There have been two murder-suicides in Martin County this year; both acts of domestic violence.
"The prevalence of domestic violence in our community is bigger than the headlines in the paper," said Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma. "There were about 110 to 120 domestic calls in the past year in Fairmont, but those were just calls that were marked as domestic cases."
Domestic abuse cases also can be found in other categories, such as reports of harassment, disturbances, welfare checks or even civil stand-bys.
"There was a case earlier this year in Zumbrota where an officer was on a civil stand by as two partners were separating out their property," Brolsma said. "The officer went there with the woman, and the man there was waiting and he shot the woman to death in front of the officer. The officer returned fire and killed the suspect ... But this shows that this is happening, even in small towns like ours. It's happening way too frequently. But there are resources available. It's a complicated problem and it's nothing to be ashamed of."
Capt. Corey Klanderud of the Martin County Sheriff's Office pointed out that for all the domestic incidents reported many more are not. Specifically, in rural areas, there may not be any nearby neighbors who can hear or call for help.
"A lot of violent incidents we don't know about until it's too late," he said.
Such was the case of Linda Norman of rural Granada, who was killed outside her workplace in June by her ex-boyfriend. Her son, Bradey Schmidt, and many other of Norman's family members were on hand for the presentation.
"He's a first responder and a volunteer firefighter," Klanderud said in introducing Schmidt. "In law enforcement, we separate ourselves from the people because it's difficult to work through these things and not take it personal, But it's even more difficult when it's someone who's so much like us. But it also makes it that much more important."
Schmidt described his mother as a strong, independent woman who didn't want to bother anyone with her problems. Unfortunately, this ended up being her downfall.
"She didn't want anyone to know what was going on," he said. "But you need to let people know and seek the proper help. It's not something you'd ever expect to happen, but it does ... My plea is that if you sense it's going on with anyone you know to get it taken care of, and get the proper authorities involved."
Domestic abuse cases have been going up in recent years, and have been getting more severe, according to Martin County Attorney Terry Viesselman.
"We're seeing and opening more files, more felony files," he said. "There are two forms we see; there's the argument that gets out of hand and they hit someone, kind of the classic domestic abuse case. Then there's the stalking, when someone is unable to let go and they fixate on that person. There is more serious potential there for something bad to happen; just because they've never acted out and hit someone doesn't mean it's not a danger."
Viesselman said the tough economic times are playing a major role in the domestic violence increase.
"Poverty is a big influence, and it's a tough time out there," he said. "The No. 1 filing we see in our private practice is bankruptcies. On Monday mornings, when we have hearings, we're seeing a lot of the defendants are not working, unemployed. That's what's going on. We've lost places where people could get jobs. Working builds esteem and fights depression. When we lose that, that's when we start to see people turning to chemical abuse, alcoholism and domestic violence ... And despite what you hear on Fox News, taxes are at their lowest ever. The trouble is all of that is rising to the top, and leaving all us working families struggling. And until we can correct things like that, things aren't going to get better."
Fairmont City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist said the first domestic assault charge is only a misdemeanor, which doesn't seem like much but is still helpful.
"It may not seem significant," she said. "But it puts them on our radar."
Bloomquist also said that we may be hearing more about domestic assaults because more people are willing to speak out, and more women are willing to stand up for themselves.
"This has been going on since men and women started living together," she said. "But people are more willing to say, 'I'm not going to be a punching bag.' Even though times are tough, more women are able to take care of themselves than they were two generations ago ... The reports of domestic assaults are rising because of people standing up and saying, 'I'm not going to take it anymore.'"
Martin County Judge Robert Walker stated that with the numbers given by the Fairmont Police Department and the Martin County Sheriff's Office domestic incidents could average out from 7 to 10 incidents each day in Martin County.
"In Martin County alone, we face over 3,000 potential incidents," he said.
While there are systems in place in the courts, Walker admitted that he couldn't say it was a fix for the problem.
"We need to expose the activity for what it really is," he said. "The first step is prevention."
However, the first incident that gets the attention of officials is likely not the first time a domestic assault has occurred. Walker estimated there could be as many as 10, 50, even 100 incidents that occur before the victim reports an incident to police.
"It takes a long time for them to be convinced," he said. "That's why we need you, the community to join us in helping."
On the Web:
Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse:
Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women:
Minnesota Domestic Abuse Project:
Minnesota Domestic Violence Crisis Line: