The Black Forest shooter, TESSA and silent witnesses


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People visit the Silent Witnesses at Cottonwood. - TESSA
  • People visit the Silent Witnesses at Cottonwood.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and TESSA — the local nonprofit that works to end the crime and help victims — was once again out in force.

For years now, TESSA has picked a day in October to set up dozens of wooden, life-size cutouts on the lawn of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Painted red, each silhouette represents a local victim of a fatal domestic violence attack. Plaques attached to the back tell their names and stories.

This year, there were 76 cutouts. But instead of another tragic display in the same spot, TESSA decided to move the figures around, taking handfuls for short displays at the city's colleges, military installations and libraries. Most of them, however, spent the month at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts, where they will continue to stand until Nov. 20 as a part of the Dia de los Muertos display.

Michelle Schaunaman, spokesperson for TESSA, says the displays have been a popular attraction for visitors, who have been moved by the stories. And they're part of the healing process for the families of the victims, who come to visit the silhouettes every year.

But over the weekend, the display seemed to take on a special significance, after Black Forest resident Kenneth Lankford allegedly shot and killed his wife and a female neighbor, and gravely injured the neighbor's husband. Stories following the shootings stated that Kenneth Lankford faced animal cruelty charges, and that his wife, Terry Lankford, may have feared his violent temper. Neighbors also said they feared Kenneth Lankford.

Janet Kerr, executive director of TESSA, says that those stories point to domestic violence that's spinning out of control.

“One of the things that we’ve known for years about domestic violence is that it is highly correlated with both animal abuse and child abuse,” she says. “... They’re just all very high indicators of each other.”

Kerr says that neighbors, coworkers, or loved ones who see those signs in someone's life should offer their support, and be nurturing. This helps because abusers often isolate their victims and make them feel as if they have no one to turn to. If you're close to the victim, it also helps to say things like, "He seems violent" or, "I'm afraid for you," because those statements help ground the victim in reality, and abusers often try to manipulate their victim's ideas of what normal behavior is. But the most important step, Kerr says, is to call TESSA's crisis line at 633-3819. Trained counselors can help to form a plan that fits the victim's needs and does the most to keep them safe.

Kerr says that 75 percent of domestic violence homicides happen when the victim is trying to leave their abuser, so it's important to have professional help. In the most extreme cases, TESSA can help victims change their names and Social Security numbers and protect other information that might help their abuser find them.


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