Crime & Courts

Murder-suicide reflects rise in Wichita domestic abuse

A murder-suicide that left a 6-year-old girl dead is part of a trend of increasing domestic violence in Wichita, a police official says.

Reimy Rivera had been asleep at home early Thursday when her mother's ex-boyfriend kicked in a door and started going from room to room shooting, killing the girl. The man wounded three other people in the house before killing himself.

With Reimy's death, Wichita now has six domestic-violence homicides this year, matching the total number for all of last year, police Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said. Domestic-violence deaths account for about one-third of the 19 homicides this year.

Domestic violence already has increased this year in three other categories of crimes that police track, Stolz said.

* Through mid-August, domestic violence aggravated batteries stood at 157, compared with 118 for the same period last year.

* Domestic violence aggravated assaults are at 113 through mid-August, compared with 98 last year.

* Domestic violence simple assaults — involving less serious injuries — are at 4,161 through July, compared with 3,672 at the same point last year.

The trend makes Wichita police wonder if the pressure that comes with a troubled economy is a factor in some of the domestic violence, Stolz said.

Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, puts it this way: "A bad economy doesn't cause domestic violence, but... it's like throwing gasoline on a fire."

The coalition doesn't have recent statewide statistics to cite but is hearing of rising domestic-violence numbers and a worsening degree of violence around the state, Grover said.

The most recent state data, from 2008 and 2009, indicates that domestic violence was worsening. In 2008, the state recorded 19 domestic violence homicides; the number nearly doubled — to 35 such homicides — in 2009. And that number didn't include child homicides related to domestic violence.

There also was a significant increase in the number of domestic-violence-related incidents reported to police statewide — from 21,500 in 2008 to 23,864 in 2009. Domestic violence is an underreported crime, Grover said.

Assessing a threat

Thursday's shooting rampage in southwest Wichita is a reminder of the toll that domestic violence can take.

Police said that Joel Humberto Corrales-Vega, 37, kicked in the door of the house in the 2300 block of South Stoney Point and began shooting with a semi-automatic handgun.

It appears that Corrales-Vega shot the girls' 56-year-old grandmother, then their mother, then the girls, said Wichita police Lt. Ken Landwehr. The children had been in bed.

Corrales-Vega then shot himself once in the head.

All of the victims except the mother, who was shot in the leg, had multiple wounds. Morales' younger daughter — 6-year-old Reimy Rivera — and Corrales-Vega died at the scene. Morales' 9-year-old daughter, Dayanara Rivera, was severely wounded, but her condition appeared to be improving, police said. The two women were in better condition than the girl.

According to police and a federal court document, Corrales-Vega, from Mexico, was convicted in 2006 of felony aggravated assault in Maricopa County, Ariz., and had been deported twice from the United States.

In Wichita, he had been involved for about two months with 30-year-old Gloria Morales, police said. Corrales-Vega, Morales and her two daughters, ages 9 and 6, recently went to Disneyland in California. At some point, the couple broke up.

The couple had argued, and he threatened the family by phone a little more than four hours before the shooting. The threat was not reported to police.

Stolz, the deputy chief, said police want people to report threats, adding, "we like to intervene from the front end."

But even if a threat is reported, it doesn't guarantee that police can take action, especially immediate action, against a suspect, he said.

And in Thursday's murder-suicide, it's not clear whether police would have had grounds to arrest Corrales-Vega if they had known of the threat, Stolz said. Although Corrales-Vega had talked to officers about an hour to two hours before making the threat, that contact with police involved an apparently unrelated matter. And at the time, he was on the move, having checked into a motel.

It would have been the "luck of the draw whether police run into him" again, Stolz said.

"The bottom line," he said, "is let's not try to blame anyone else for this crime but" the person firing the gun.

"He is 100 percent responsible. This woman and her children ... are in no way to blame for this," Stolz said.

Far too often, people second-guess the actions or inactions of victims, and it's not fair, said Stacey Mann, executive director of YWCA Wichita.

Leaving abusive relationships

It's not unusual for children to be targeted in domestic violence, Mann said.

The abuser "will often target the children because it is a direct tie to mom," Mann said.

The children become leverage.

In the worst attacks, Mann said, it's "not uncommon for children to be murdered first or in front of mom" — the attacker's way to hurt the mother in the worst way.

It's not clear whether the economy had anything to do with the most recent attack, but in general, economic woes are having a pronounced effect, Mann said.

The demand for help is constant. The YWCA shelter in Wichita has 27 beds, "and it's full all the time," Mann said. "We unfortunately have to turn women away from our shelter," she said, although the YWCA tries to assist them in finding safe, affordable housing.

But all programs, including churches and food pantries, have fewer resources to help abused women, she said.

It all combines to make some women feel trapped in their abusive relationships.

The abuser, she said, feels empowered to tell the woman: "I can do whatever I want, because you have no place to go."

As much as women might need to leave abusive relationships, they have to use some caution and planning in breaking off the relationship, because the risk to them skyrockets when they are trying to leave, Mann said.

The YWCA urges women to get help from programs so they can safely make the transition to a new living arrangement.

The message, she said, is "Call us ... . Please reach out for help so you have a better idea of what might be available."

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