ROANOKE, Va. – Lori Leath and Lauren Bolen were murdered two days and more than 100 miles apart, but loved ones and community organizations hope their deaths unite people against domestic violence.
“People tend to want to box what a domestic violence relationship is and who it affects," said Amanda Holcomb of the Council for Community Services. "In reality, it affects anyone.”
Leath, 37, was shot and killed by her husband at their Halifax County home on Christmas Eve. Her husband then died by suicide.
“I feel pain for my niece who has to continue growing up without her mother over a senseless act, a senseless crime,” said Jay Hopkins, Leath’s former brother-in-law, in an interview with 10 News this week. “We’re hoping that talking about will prevent it from happening to someone else in the future.”
Bolen, 30, was found dead at her Hillsville home the Sunday before Christmas. Bolen’s autopsy revealed she had been strangled to death; her husband has been arrested and charged with her murder.
“Lauren would want me to tell anybody that in an abusive relationship, not to be silent,” Bolen’s friend, Hailie Cushman, said at a vigil in her memory this weekend. "Tell someone. Reach out for help.”
According to a report from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a third of Virginia’s homicides every year are related to domestic violence.
Holcomb and her organization educate people about the causes and symptoms of domestic violence. She said it is important for others to pick up on the signs because sometimes victims are unable to speak up.
“A lot of people are afraid to come forward because there’s so much of a stigma around it. It’s almost an embarrassment for some people,” Holcomb said. “If they’re detaching away from their families and friends, if they’re isolating themselves, if maybe there are financial constraints you’ve never seen before, those are usually indicators.”
Holcomb said domestic violence can be an especially hard issue near Christmas and New Year’s.
“There are financial strains around the holidays, you’re with your family more," Holcomb said. "I think there’s a lot of stresses at the holidays that impact relationships.”
Although Leath and Bolen both died before Christmas, Holcomb hopes people remember that domestic violence can happen at any time.
“The most frustrating thing is that somewhere along the line, someone has thought that this is what love is,” Holcomb said.