Oct. 19—A woman walked slowly and quietly through the lobby of the Schmidt Technology & Training Center at Reading Area Community College on Monday, pausing in front of a red silhouette.
She raised her hand to her mouth, kissed her fingers and pressed them against a wooden shield emblazoned with a name and story. The name was of someone who had died as a result of domestic abuse, the story the tale of what happened.
All around the woman similar scenes unfolded. Some people hugged loved ones, others stood silently wiping away tears.
Each of them remembered.
That was the whole point, after all. The reason why nearly 100 people had gathered in Reading, walking somberly from Safe Berks on Chestnut Street to the college campus Monday afternoon as participants of the 20th annual Safe Berks Silent Witness March.
The traveling memorial to victims of domestic violence paid tribute to the 76 men, women and children in Berks County whose lives were tragically and violently cut short by those closest to them since 1999. The event is held each October to observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Stacey Jordan, managing director of community engagement for Safe Berks, said the goal of the event is to provide support for the families of those who lost their lives to domestic violence and to bring awareness to the resources that could help prevent similar tragedies.
"Domestic violence is not a private issue, and we need to do more to break down that stigma," she told those gathered at the event. "Domestic violence is, in fact, a community issue and a public health crisis. We seek the help of every member of our community to end domestic violence."
Tina Fick said she is willing to do her part to help achieve that mission.
Her son, Chad MacWilliam, died after being stabbed in the chest by his fiance in their South Heidelberg Township home in December 2020. So she said she has a deep understanding of the importance of shining a light on domestic violence.
"I wanted to be here today to honor my son," the Wernersville woman said. "We know that we are not alone — that there are many families going through the same thing that we are. There is some comfort in this fellowship of people."
Fick said her family wanted to show their support as part of a larger group that is left to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence.
"There is healing and there is hope, we just have to support one another and be thankful for the time we had with our loved ones," she said. "We must always keep them in our hearts and remember the memories that we shared with them. It's unfair, but we can't change it. And we have to go on for those who are living."
Regina Flowers said it was important that her family took part in the event.
She's the older sister of Patricia Baskerville-Torres, a nurse who was stabbed to death by her husband of a little less than a year in their Reading home in May.
About two dozen family members showed up to pay tribute to Patricia, wearing matching shirts they had made to commemorate her life.
"Because her voice was silenced we wanted to be here to support others who are experiencing the same pain," Flowers said. "We want to continue to create awareness because we were not aware that this was even happening to my sister. And the day we found out, it was too late."
Flowers said she has learned there are resources in the community that she never knew existed until their family lived through this tragedy. She said Safe Berks offers a lot more than what she had thought and was surprised to discover that they even offer services to the families of victims.
"This event gave us a chance to be able to be together to remember and to support others," she said, adding that getting information out to the community about the signs of abuse and the resources available to those in need has become a mission for the whole family.
Reading Mayor Eddie Moran, who presented a proclamation commemorating Domestic Violence Awareness Month during the event, told the crowd that participating in the walk had been profoundly meaningful and that he was overcome with emotion as he heard the stories of those whose lives were cut short.
"I am truly touched," he said as he fought back tears. "My heart is with you all and I feel your pain."
Moran said the event was particularly timely, with another tragedy taking place over the weekend
"Even as we were preparing for this event, we received the news that there had been another domestic abuse fatality in Berks County," he said.
Just after 7:30 p.m. on Saturday Ernesto Lopez Milpa fatally shot his wife, Heidi Lopez, inside their home in the first block of North Centre Avenue, investigators said. Ernesto Lopez Milpa also shot himself, later dying of the wound, they said.
The Silent Witness Project will remain on RACC's campus through the end of the month. It will then move to Kutztown University. The memorial previously made a stop at Penn State Health St. Joseph.
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, contact the 24-hour Safe Berks hotline at 844-789-SAFE (7233) or text SAFE BERKS to 20121.