Survivors of domestic violence and the family of a Lexington woman whose husband was recently charged with her murder were among the dozens that gathered in front of the Fayette County District Courthouse on Thursday night to give support and awareness to women and men who suffer at the hands of their partners.
In what Sheriff Kathy Witt said would be the first annual domestic violence candlelight vigil, survivors told their stories and begged people who are in domestic violence situations to find help and speak up.
The family of Karina Gutierrez, a woman who was violently killed in Lexington earlier this month, told the crowd that she had done everything she was supposed to. Gutierrez took her children, left Jose Antonio Rivera and got a protection order against him nearly two years ago, her cousin Eva Alcaraz said.
But on Oct. 9, Gutierrez was beaten to death outside her apartment on Codell Drive, according to the Fayette County Coroner’s Office. Rivera was later charged with her murder, assault and violation of a protection order.
Alcaraz, who has taken in Gutierrez’s children, said that the relationship was happy at first. When the abuse first began, Gutierrez didn’t speak out but made changes when he sent her to a hospital, Alcaraz said.
“She made those changes in her life that were going to be so necessary for her as a person and her family,” Alcaraz said through a translator. “Unfortunately, Karina … she didn’t have the same ending as some of our survivors … she is no longer here.”
At one point, one of Gutierrez’s children came up to the stage and thanked Alcaraz for taking them in. She also told the crowd to speak up, so what happened to her mother would not happen to another woman.
Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn announced at the vigil that her office has formed a special victims unit. The unit is made up of prosecutors that will focus on crimes against the vulnerable, such as domestic violence victims, sexual assault victims, children and the elderly.
Garcia Beckett, a domestic violence survivor, said she married her ex-husband out of fear for her life and the lives of her children. She said things got worse after they married.
“I was living with someone who was planning on trying to kill me. I didn’t know this,” Beckett said. “During that night … he prepared a solution of Clorox with salt in it and hid a hunting knife in the couch.”
Beckett said when her children left to go to school the next day, her husband jumped up and poured the solution all over her. It melted holes in her nightgown.
Beckett was able to escape after nearly being strangled to death. She credits Sheriff Witt’s office and other community members with helping her get protection and end her marriage.
Gutierrez is one of several people who have reportedly been killed by domestic violence in Lexington so far this year. Leon Hignite, 76, died of assault in early October and his wife was charged in his murder. In February, Tiffany Duiguid, 32, died when her boyfriend, Keith Plaster, 44, shot her and then killed himself, according to police.
Representatives from GreenHouse 17, The Nest, the Chrysalis House and other organizations were on hand at the vigil Thursday night to provide support and resources for people who are victims of domestic violence.
Lexington Domestic Violence Resources
GreenHouse 17 Crisis Line: 800-544-2022
The Nest Lexington: 859-259-1974
Lexington Police Department: 859-258-3600