Permeco Myers gazed at the hundreds of faces at Finlay Park on Saturday morning knowing that many staring back were walking the same dark road she once traveled.
For longer than anyone should, the state health department worker endured an abusive domestic relationship at the hands of someone who considered her “his property” and ultimately held her hostage for more than 20 hours while stabbing her repeatedly.
Years after overcoming the abuse and seeing her assailant brought to justice, Myers is still speaking out, and she had a captive audience as upward of 1,000 people turned out for the city of Columbia’s 6th Annual Mayor’s Walk Against Domestic Violence.
“The man that did this to me is now serving a life term,” Myers announced to a cheering crowd before participants took the symbolic steps of healing along the one-mile path in the area around the park.
Never miss a local story.
The need for domestic violence awareness is greater in few places. South Carolina ranks second nationally in the rate of men killing women, according to the national Violence Policy Council’s review of crime data submitted to the FBI.
Such numbers have made community members and leaders all the more vigilant about promoting awareness while encouraging those affected by domestic violence to seek help and others who may be aware of it to speak out.
Saturday’s crowd included a mix of men and women across a wide age range. Among them were more than a dozen family members and friends of Letitia Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons would have turned 41 Saturday but died two years ago.
In September 2010, the day she applied for a restraining order against her estranged husband, he is accused of breaking into her apartment, chasing her to another unit and shooting her multiple times, police reports said.
He then fled to Fairfield County, where he is accused of getting into a shootout with deputies. He is in the Richland County jail without bond, awaiting trial.
Fitzsimmons’ sister Josie Rodgers said the likelihood of someone knowing someone who is experiencing a similar situation is high even if they may not be aware of it.
“We all know someone who has been affected by domestic violence,” Rodgers said. “We want to be an advocate for them.”
Similar sentiments were being expressed across the park grounds Saturday.
Gwen Goodwin and Lois Mack of Bethlehem Baptist Church took their place among the morning walkers as a way of showing their support.
“We wanted to support those who might be going through this and we might not know about it,” Goodwin said.
Columbia’s Ardric Lewis said it was important that he and other men be a part of the walk.
“It’s good for men to come out and show support for the women – and visa versa,” Lewis said. “It’s an issue that a lot of people don’t like to talk about.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin told the gathering that the culture of domestic violence must be stemmed, in part by reinforcing in the home what is and is not acceptable behavior.
“I am a husband and a father to two children, and I will always raise them to know they are not to tolerate that kind of violence,” Benjamin said.
Saturday’s walk featured a free information fair that showcased various related agencies including Family Advocacy Program, the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office and the Girls Meet World mentoring program.