Vigil laments domestic violence

Staff WriterApril 14, 2006 

Darien Russell, center, mother of Keara Lynne Hart, grieves with Jo Sanders, left, and Susanne Saunders at a vigil for victims of domestic violence on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. Hart, 30, was found dead last week.

STAFF PHOTO BY PAILIN WEDEL

  • ORANGE COUNTY * Orange County Rape Crisis centers 24-hour Crisis Line: (866) 935-4783 Chapel Hill: 825-A Estes Drive 968-4647 or 338-0746 Hillsborough: 114 W. Corbin St. 643-0722 * Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County 201 E. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill 929-3872 24-hour hot line: (866) 929-7122 or 929-7122 * Chapel Hill Police Crisis Unit 828 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Main Line: 968-2760 Crisis Line: 968-2806 CHATHAM COUNTY * Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Chatham County 200 East St., Pittsboro 542-5445 24-hour Crisis Line: 545-0224 DURHAM COUNTY * Durham Crisis Response Center 206 N. Dillard St. 403-9425 24-hour Crisis Line: 403-6562 * Durham Police Department Domestic Violence Unit 505 W. Chapel Hill St. 560-4910 For emergencies or a domestic violence situation in progress, dial 911.

The women of Keara Lynne Hart's family came out to give her support and strength, proving these expressions of love never die.

About 70 people gathered Thursday evening in front of the Franklin Street post office for a vigil remembering Hart, who was killed last week, as well as to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Hart, whose body was found in her Chapel Hill apartment April 6, was the latest victim in a domestic violence homicide.

"Keara was really, really strong and was doing great things with herself and with her children," said Heather Brown, Hart's cousin. "So, it's been a very rude wake-up call for me that this problem is so big that it's that hushed and quiet.

"With the family and support Keara has, in my mind, this shouldn't have happened," Brown said in front of the crowd of people who held red or pink and white carnations in one hand and white candles in the other.

Hart's mother and aunts also spoke about their grief.

"I am Keara's mother, and I feel like my heart has been ripped out," said Darien Russell.

Russell has worked with a treatment program for people in Orange and Durham counties who were both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, said Melissa Radcliff, executive director of the Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County.

"I just want to say, for myself, I'm not sure if I can continue to do this anymore," Russell said. "Keara was a beautiful, beautiful person. ... I don't know what else to say. My heart is just broken."

One of Keara's aunts, Marie Brown, urged the crowd to try to prevent domestic violence homicides. "Anything you can do to stop this madness -- it's madness -- please do your best," she said.

Hart was found with stab wounds to her neck and chest. Damego Demon Lee, Hart's on-and-off boyfriend, has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail in the Orange County jail.

Court records show Hart and Lee knew each other for about 2 1/2 years and lived together. Police said both listed the same address.

The Family Violence Prevention centers of Orange and Chatham counties helped organize the vigil. A few other women, past victims of domestic violence, also came to speak.

Hart's case is one of two homicides so far this year in Orange and Chatham counties. And both were related to domestic violence.

Hart was the state's 13th domestic violence homicide victim this year, Radcliff said.

"This is an opportunity for us to also send the message to people that, if it is happening to you, that there is help available," Radcliff said, "that you're not alone, and that you don't deserve to have it happen."

Staff writer Meiling Arounnarath can be reached at 932-2004 or meiling.arounnarath@newsobserver.com.

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