CHRISTIANSBURG (WSLS 10) -- Sixteen years after the death of her mother, Anne Faville, Holly Litos is speaking out in a way her mother never could.
"We talk about cancer. We talk about all these other huge, devastating and tragic things that happen in our local communities but domestic violence is like the big elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about because it doesn't come in a neat tidy little package," she said.
In one of the largest, most comprehensive studies on intimate partner homicide to date, the Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Validation Study, researchers in 2005 found only about five percent of the victims contacted a local domestic violence program in the year before they were killed.
Litos is on a mission to change that and give a voice to victims through her own family's story.
It started in 2000 when her mother died. A medical examiner ruled the Salem Elementary School teacher choked on a piece of food, but 13 years later, a second medical examiner ruled her death a homicide. Litos' father, Mark "Ward" Faville was charged with voluntary manslaughter. It was during his trial last April that Litos said she first gave her mother a voice from the witness stand.
"I got to sit on the witness stand and actually read a journal entry that she had written it was in her handwriting talking about finally getting to be free. It felt like I was speaking for her It really did. I found a voice on the witness stand it didn't feel like it with me. It felt like she was sitting right there telling everybody telling everybody what had happened."
She said she'd never felt so empowered.
A Montgomery County jury found Mark Faville guilty, but seconds after the verdict was read, he took his own life as deputies led him to a holding room.
"We didn't have very long to process the verdict. We hadn't even fully made it out into the hallway leaving the court room when something we didn't know what it was a lot of people started yelling and we just kind of ran."
An unimaginable story Litos knows she can't rewrite for her own family but she hopes to change the ending for someone else.
"Help other women that might be in a situation where they feel like they may not have a voice to help them find a voice."
She's raising awareness and talking about a topic so widespread that researchers say one in four women and one in seven men are victims of domestic violence. Few ever discuss it.
"Often times it is so quiet and it is so hidden under the surface. I mean our own story people never would have known. People never would have known what my mom was going through until it was over. And until we wound up in a court room testifying for her."
Litos now volunteers with the Women's Resource Center in Radford. It's a source of help and hope for women who need to take a difficult step. She's planning a fitness and health fundraiser in October. It will focus on health and fitness because it was important to her mother before her death.
"I decided to set up a fund-raiser in my mom's memory that would directly benefit the women's resource center to put the word out about domestic violence awareness. About how prevalent it is and how we just don't talk about it enough."