Published by the Joliet Herald-News
October 6, 2018
Alicia Guerrero walked up to the lectern Thursday and stood before a crowd of more than 400 people with all eyes on her. She took several deep breaths, and, as her voice trembled, she took everyone back to the moments that led to her daughter’s murder.
For the past 22 years, Will County Take Back the Night has been an event meant to shed light on domestic violence and violence against women and children. Each year, hundreds gather to honor their loved ones whom they have lost, while others empower the communities to not let another person die at the hands of violence.
“Will County is constantly adding names. This is a prevalent problem in our backyard,” said Amirrah Abou-Youssef, a TBTN volunteer.
After all of the introductions and awards, Guerrero stepped up and the room became silent. Only quiet sobs could be heard as she spoke of how her 13-year-old, Briana Valle, found a way to get onto social media after her parents forbade it and met Erick Maya, who pretended to be 16 years old, when in fact he was 21.
Guerrero went on to say her daughter changed and eventually ran away. Through exhaustive efforts on her part, she found her daughter, and they ended up with home security systems, bars on the windows, no electronics and a new school.
They later went to the courthouse to get an order of protection.
“About a month and a half had gone by, and we had not heard from him. The day that would forever change our lives was the morning of Feb. 13, 2014,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero explained how she and Valle got in the car to go to school. She heard a loud noise and glass shatter. She said confusion took over until she saw her limp daughter and a man with a gun. Maya then shot Guerrero.
She pushed the home alarm buttons on her key ring and honked the horn so neighbors could hear, and, as she held her wound, tended to her daughter.
Valle eventually went brain dead.
“To all of you teens out there, I want you all to know how worthy you are. Truly love yourself before you love someone else,” Guerrero said.
She urged parents to not get caught up in obligations and busy life but to stop and listen to children without judgment.
“Our memoriam ceremony is the most impactful. We know we can do awareness with ribbons and purple light bulbs, but to hear the names of people lost, hear how old and how many in the community have died is very moving,” Abou-Youssef said.
The group took to the streets of downtown Joliet near the high school with signs and yelled “take back the night” as they marched for those who lost their lives and those who need to know someone cares.
Joliet-area community shows support for those who experienced violence
At the age of 22, Brittany Brooks of Joliet found herself in a relationship she could not fix with an ex-boyfriend she could not help.
She was stalked and intimidated, and even though her family tried to help, they said it was too late, and Brooks was found murdered in 2009 in a park in the Rockdale area.
Brooks’ family remembered and marched for her Sunday alongside more than 100 others who had been affected by violence in Will County. St. John Lutheran Church in Joliet was the site of the 20th Take Back the Night march, where people gathered to remember, offer support and learn about violence to women and children.
Event co-chairwoman Amirrah Abou-Youssef said the goal of the evening was to express that domestic violence, violence and sexual crimes aren’t welcome in Joliet area communities, to show that hope has not been lost and to extend a hand to those who need the help.
“This was important to Joliet because domestic violence has touched the community in a big way. We want to show that Joliet is the forefront of support to survivors through its agencies and not to victim shame, but lift up the survivors,” Abou-Youssef said.
In the lobby of the church, advocacy organizations in Will County offered a listening ear and information to keep or pass along to someone who may need help. Domestic violence survivor Kristy O’Malley said she lived in the area for seven years and was not aware of any shelter or hotline she could turn to when she faced violence, so awareness needs to be a priority to stop the crimes.
“My son and I are here tonight because if we would not have found Guardian Angel [Community Services] and its Groundwork program, we may not be here today,” O’Malley said, adding that police contacted the shelter about her situation after a 911 call.
Guest speaker Karli Johnson, who endured dating violence, rape and trauma while she attended college, has taken her experiences around the country to empower women.
She said her low point was not the rape itself or the prior years of abuse and trauma, but after her rape when she was in a place where she wished she was dead. It was at a Take Back the Night march on campus where she found her voice.
“When one person shares their story, when one person reaches out for help, it gives bravery and courage for others to share,” Johnson said. “We won’t be silenced. Tonight we will be heard and take back every night.”
The room fell silent as a memorial candle was lit and carried down the aisle, and one by one, the names of women and children who were killed by violence over the past 20 years in Will County were called out as a representative stood in their place.
Afterward, the march took to the streets of Joliet as survivors and those representing victims who can no longer speak for themselves held signs and walked up and down Plainfield Road.
Annual grass-roots event affecting views on domestic violence
JOLIET – Lora McGuire abruptly stopped one of her students from entering a patient’s room.
McGuire was a nursing professor at Joliet Junior College. Her students were performing their clinicals at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet. The student had a black eye.
When McGuire learned the student’s husband inflicted the injury, she told the student, “You have to go to the police.” The student’s reply stunned McGuire: “He is the police.”
The student was Kathleen Savio. Her husband was Drew Peterson. That encounter convinced McGuire to join the Will County Take Back the Night committee.
As McGuire looks back on the 20 years Will County has hosted the annual grass-roots rally and candlelight vigil, she feels the event is meeting its goal.
“We wanted to raise awareness,” she said.
This year’s event is Oct. 16, a Sunday and not the traditional weekday. Also new are community boxes. These contain information about domestic violence and purple ribbons – including lapel ribbons, which Girl Scout Troop 70058 of Lockport made during its September meeting, said Tycee Bell of Joliet, who recently joined the Take Back the Night committee.
Bell said one of the community boxes went to the Plainfield Junior Woman’s Club. The club received permission from the village of Plainfield to tie ribbons and put up a sign in Settler’s Park near the Village Hall, Bell said.
Like McGuire, Bell had attended the events but became more involved when domestic abuse affected one of her friends.
“I don’t know another way to give a voice or show admiration for those fighting and those who have survived,” Bell said. “For those who have left us, it’s good to take some time and reflect.”
Another committee member, Mardi Wunderlich, has participated in all 20 events: the first as a speaker and the rest as an organizer. In year one, Wunderlich, newly hired at the Joliet Police Department, was asked to fill in for the chief, who was scheduled to speak.
Wunderlich doesn’t recall the exact words she spoke that night. But she saw how profoundly the rally and vigil affected the families of domestic violence victims. She joined the committee the following year.
Now, as the domestic abuse worker for the Joliet Police Department, Wunderlich especially wants to stay connected with the event. She feels Will County Take Back the Night has altered the way people view domestic violence.
“It’s brought the issue to the forefront. People talk about it more openly or publicly,” Wunderlich said. “Domestic violence is still happening but people are more inclined to report it.”
But that doesn’t bring back the victims.
With encouragement from McGuire, Savio temporarily dropped out of the nursing program, divorced Peterson and built a new life for herself. McGuire recalled the change in Savio when she returned to the program a few years later.
“She was like a different person,” McGuire said. “She looked great. She was doing great in clinicals and great in school. I saw her on a Friday afternoon and on Sunday I read in The Herald-News how she was found dead in the bathtub.”
When class met again, Savio’s chair was empty. McGuire said she and the students held a moment of silence for her.
“Nobody taught me how to handle that,” McGuire said. “It still makes me so sad. She didn’t have to die.”
Violence against women will not go away if we just shut our eyes to it. The Will County Take Back The Night steering committee is asking for your support and help in opening eyes to an insidious problem in our community.
The 20th annual Will County Take Back The Night will take place on Sunday, October 16, 2016 at 4:30 pm at St. John Lutheran Church, 2650 Plainfield Road, Joliet, IL 60435, (the corner of Hennepin Drive and Plainfield Road).
Over the past 20 years, the Committee has advocated for women who have suffered violence. As this is our 20th year, we have many events planned throughout the County to help bring awareness to the issue. Plans are underway to bring the message to every corner of Will County; displays will be set up in many of the area libraries; and a timeline of the efforts of Take Back the Night is being created. As you can imagine, we are working to make this 20th year to be the biggest message we have ever delivered.
We are looking for community partners, across Will County, to host an awareness event in your town. We will provide an “event box” filled with supplies to hold the event. The box will have balloons which can be used for a balloon launch, ribbons which can be tied on trees in your community, the 20th year event flyers, save the date cards, and purple label ribbons which can be given out to those attending your event.
We would like the events to be held before the 2nd week in October. Domestic Violence Awareness Month is October and purple is representative color. If photos can be taken at your awareness event, they will become part of the video we show on October 16th, you will be acknowledged on social media and our website as well as your organizations name listed in our program booklet.
Your support is needed more than ever to help us get our message out. Please support Will County Take Back The Night by committing to being a partner with us.
For more information about hosting an awareness event in your town, go to www.willtbtn.com, or contact Stacey Dillard at 815-342-0335 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to a partnership of awareness and caring.
Will County Take Back The Night 2016 Steering Committee
October 1, 2015
By Bob Okon for The Herald-News
The living and the dead were honored Thursday night at Take Back the Night.
The event held each year offers hope to victims of domestic abuse and remembers women and children who have died in acts of domestic violence.
“Tonight is about courage,” keynote speaker Victor Pacini told a crowd of more than 300 people gathered at First Assembly of God Church.
Pacini, an author who was sexually abused as a boy and whose sister was killed by her husband at the age of 38, offered an upbeat message and brought people on stage to join him in song.
He urged people in the audience not be defeated by their abusers.
“We don’t blame ourselves any longer,” he said. “We can do great things. Or we can live in the pain. You decide.”
60 killed in acts of domestic violence
The evening also included very solemn moments.
The names of 60 women and children killed in acts of domestic violence in Will County in the past 10 years were read aloud during a vigil service.
“Far too many women have been killed. These are the names we call tonight,”said Karen Ward with Will County Take Back the Night before she began to read the names. “We honor the women and children who cannot be with us tonight.”
The list of names included Joslyn Woods, a 20-year-old Joliet woman who was brutally stabbed to death a little more than a year ago.
Her stepmother, Danielle Woods, was at Take Back the Night.
“It’s important to be here and to bring awareness to Joslyn and other young women, and to be with other families that have gone through what we’ve gone through,” Woods said.
“It’s an incredible turnout,” she said. “It helps families to be with other families, and it brings awareness in the community to what people are going through.”
From the unborn to the aged
Not everyone at Take Back the Night had experienced domestic violence.
Michelle Adams of Romeoville watched a video screen that listed the names of women and children killed by acts of domestic violence over the past 10 years.
“Watching this is disturbing with all the ages,” Adams said.
Some were very young. Two unborn children were listed – Ava Lucille Bromfield-Anicich and Baby Boy Abouelkheir. Some were very old: Veronica Schick, 90, and Tresa McCauley, 89.
“I think this definitely does some good for families,” said Stoney Hileman, a nursing student at Joliet Junior College. “There are people here who are family members of those who were murdered. It helps them feel they’re not alone.”
Andrea Chasteen, director of operations for the Will County Circuit Clerk’s Office, brought a $3,736 check for Will County Take Back the Night. The money was collected at a fundraiser for the organization.
Chasteen said the Circuit Clerk’s Office first became involved with Take Back the Night seven years ago.
“Our goal was to bring more attention to this critical issue that many try to ignore,” she said.
No one was ignoring the issue Thursday night at First Assembly of God Church. And, it was hard to ignore the “March Against Violence” alongside Essington Road that followed the vigil.
Part of Pacini’s message to women and children in the audience was not to be quiet about abuse.
Relating how he had been told to be quiet about the sexual abuse he suffered as a boy, Pacini said, “Too many kids are told you should be seen and not heard. Not any more. Too many adults are told to be seen and not heard. Not anymore.”