There are more Charlie Ann Wyricks out there.
That’s what worries domestic violence experts and prosecutors following an eight-day trial that saw Emmanuel Gomez convicted of homicide in the December 2015 murder of Wyrick, his 26-year-old girlfriend.
In the months leading up to her death, Wyrick came to work with black eyes, hunks of hair missing, bandages over a broken nose, and bruises covering her arms, her coworkers testified. Near the end, she told a friend Gomez’s abuse was getting worse, his attacks more severe and more frequent. She told others he threatened to kill her, and that he drove her to the places in Pattee Canyon where he could dump her body.
The evidence to those around her that Wyrick was increasingly in danger from a violent and volatile Gomez grew from suspicion to belief to certainty as the weeks passed. A friend took her away to Helena, only to have Gomez come and take her back again. The day before her death, her brother offered to help her leave.
But what many seemed to struggle with on the witness stand was how they best might have helped Wyrick, who grew increasingly isolated as time went on.
For Shantelle Gaynor, senior grants administrator at the county’s office of Relationship Violence Services, the Wyrick case has broader significance. She wants people to know that what happened to Wyrick is happening to other women in the city, and wants the people close to victims to know how they can help before the worst happens.
For 10 years, Missoula didn’t have a single domestic violence-related homicide, Gaynor said. But that ended in 2015, when there were two – Wyrick’s and the double murder-suicide of Kalee Scolatti and T.J. Dupras by Scolatti’s estranged husband Nicholas Scolatti.
To Gaynor, the No. 1 resource is the YWCA’s 24-hour crisis hotline at 406-542-1944 and 800-483-7858. Despite the name, Gaynor said it isn’t just for victims or crises. It can also connect victims' friends with an advocate who can help them help someone else in a way that is anonymous and confidential.
“You need to build your team, bring people in and ask for help. The YWCA, advocates, they are out there and they will help you,” Gaynor said.
It's common for a victim to leave and go back to an abuser several times before being able to truly break away, but Gaynor said looking at what a victim should do is the wrong way to view the problem.
“The right question is why is he hurting her, not why isn’t she leaving,” she said. “Leaving doesn’t always equal safety. Having friends and family intervene doesn’t always equal safety.”
Women stay in domestic violence situations for a broad range of reasons, Gaynor said, including stability. A 2010 study by the city found that domestic violence was the leading cause of homelessness for women and children.
“So parents are choosing, 'Gee, homelessness for me and my kids, or occasional violence and then it gets better for awhile,'” Gaynor said. “Why don’t victims leave? They are trapped by violence, addiction, finances, by not having a way out.”
And looking at a relationship solely in terms of its violence misses another key point.
“Most people want the violence to end but not the relationship. You don’t get into what does the relationship do for the victim. You can ask someone to leave, but really you’re asking them to leave a lot more than just violence,” Gaynor said. “We want there to be clean solutions and it’s not that easy.”
As with suicide, Gaynor said anyone who has concerns or suspicions that something is wrong in a friend’s relationship shouldn’t be afraid to talk to the person about it directly.
“I think it’s important to start inserting language that nobody has a right to hurt you, it doesn’t matter what happened,” she said.
She shied away from the idea that a friend who believes there is a significant danger should take the decision of what to do out of the hands of a victim and go directly to the police.
“A person needs to evaluate whether making that call will break that relationship and further isolate the person,” she said. “You can call the police but she can say (to police), 'Nothing happened, go away.' She might not be ready to get out.”
YWCA executive director Cindy Weese said while typically she would agree not to take the decision away from a victim, she felt Wyrick’s case was so over the top, she would have made an exception.
“I would think that Charlie was depending on someone who would witness it would do something. It is hard for me to read and hear what happened in Charlie’s case and not feel that friends, coworkers should have intervened and notified police earlier,” she said.
It’s typical for those around a victim to feel helpless and not know what to do, Weese said.
“I think one of the most important things is just to be a friend. It’s important to acknowledge that they are in a very difficult situation, it’s a very scary situation and that you are afraid for them and want to help,” Weese said.
She said friends should help a victim trying to leave to plan how to do it and be safe.
“If and when they are ready to leave, what do they need to have? Can they give anything to you right now that you can keep? Clothing, money, copies of birth certificates. Encourage them to talk to the YWCA, offer to take them there,” she said.
Weese said in those conversations, it’s important not to be judgmental, to tell a person what they “need to” do. She said talking down about their partner also isn’t helpful, and can make many victims pull away.
“What I would encourage people to do is take some action, don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t be a bystander who does nothing,” Weese said.
Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst said Gomez exercised an “extreme power and control” over Wyrick during their relationship, which ratcheted up after Wyrick made ultimately unsuccessful attempts to leave him. She said for friends and family of someone in a similar position, it’s paramount to make sure a victim knows they have outside support.
“Because it’s the most dangerous when a person is trying to leave, that’s when they need the most help,” she said. “Ask questions, offer support in developing a plan, offer to help facilitate a plan and follow up with them.”
If the police do get involved, Pabst said they bring with them more than just law enforcement. They can help a victim engage with professional support services. Prosecutors and judges can set restrictions on a perpetrator that carry consequences.
Pabst said she was shocked earlier this year when she was putting together an annual crime report to discover that more than 60 percent of all violent crimes her office charged in 2016 were based in assaults on a partner or family member.
A common thing her office sees in such cases is victims, for a variety of reasons, recant as prosecution moves forward. For that reason, Pabst said her office develops “evidence-based cases” documenting specific injuries and testimony at the time of an arrest to make sure that even if a victim is being pressured to stop participating in a prosecution, the case can move forward.
“We take a real hard line on domestic violence," Pabst said. "When we see a first charge of (partner or family member assault) we take it as a potential worst-case scenario."