Crime & Courts

Telling domestic violence stories ‘to comfort the disturbed, disturb the comfortable’

Domestic violence ended 39 lives in South Carolina last year. This is one story

The Silent Witness memorial for families who have lost a loved one to domestic violence shows once again that too many die in South Carolina
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The Silent Witness memorial for families who have lost a loved one to domestic violence shows once again that too many die in South Carolina

Tomena Ford’s friends and family kept the reservation she had placed on a building for one day last June. But instead of the baby shower Ford was planning, they held a remembrance party for the pregnant mother, who was shot and killed by her fiancee a month earlier.

“She was excited,” Melody Ford, 37, said of her sister, who had an appointment for an ultrasound the day she was killed. “She never had kids. She always wanted to be a mother.”

Tomena Ford, 33, was one of 39 people killed by domestic violence in South Carolina in 2016, each of whom was memorialized Tuesday during the 20th annual Silent Witness Ceremony. South Carolina has ranked among the top 10 deadliest states in the country for women each year the ceremony has been held.

In 2014, the Palmetto State dropped from No. 2 to No. 5, a ranking it maintained for 2015, in information released last month. Attorney General Alan Wilson said that’s not good enough.

“We want to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” Wilson told the crowd gathered at the State House. “These ceremonies do just that, to comfort those who have been lost but also to disturb us to a point where we never get complacent.”

‘It could have been different’

Tomena Ford met Darkel Foreman around 2007 when they both worked security at Honda of South Carolina in Florence County, her sister said.

“He was kind of weird,” Melody Ford said of Foreman. “He didn’t like to be around a lot of people. He kind of wanted her to be around him all the time. He didn’t want to be around her family.”

The two became engaged around 2013. Tomena Ford was eight months pregnant May 26, 2016, when she went to Foreman’s home and they got into an argument, her sister said.

Foreman called 911 and told dispatchers he and Ford were arguing, according to her witness story published at the ceremony. The Florence Morning News reported that Tomena Ford was shot multiple times, and that their unborn child – a daughter to be named Serenity – would have been viable outside the womb.

Foreman is awaiting trial on two counts of murder.

“She never liked to tell us anything,” Melody Ford said of her sister. “It could have been different. She could have been saved. But no one knew.”

‘Get out’

Tuesday’s ceremony included the reading of each victim’s name and story.

Sarah Jackson brought the audience to its feet in applause with the story of how she tried – and failed – three times to leave an abusive marriage.

“This is my fourth and final time out,” she said. “I made this promise to God. I said, ‘If I can get out one more time, Lord, I promise you that I’ll never go back.’ 

Jackson recounted her marriage to her now-late husband, whom she referred to as her abuser and who was pastor of their church. Not only did he regularly beat her, she said, but he threatened to kill her and their children.

“He always told us, ‘You better not come into church with a frown on your face,’ ” she said. “Our faces had smiles on them, but our hearts were bleeding.”

Jackson said she hopes someone in an abusive relationship, or someone who knows a loved one who is being abused, will be persuaded by her story to get help.

“Tell them to get out,” she said. “And once they get out, tell them don’t go back like I did. Because these people don’t change.”