Originally created 10/11/00

Vigil honors victims of abuse

AIKEN - Georgia Marie Rich was going to her boyfriend's house to break up with him for the last time when he shot her in the heart, then turned the gun on himself.

The Edgefield resident was one of 39 South Carolina women reported killed last year as victims of domestic violence.

The Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons remembered Ms. Rich - and victims and survivors from Aiken County - at a candlelight vigil Tuesday in front of the Aiken County Courthouse. October is national Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

"We want to bring awareness to the community that domestic violence is an epidemic throughout the United States," Cumbee Center Director Kay Mixon said. "We also want to honor both victims and survivors."

Mrs. Mixon said she remembered hearing about the Edgefield double slaying Oct. 16, about how Juan Oliveri, 31, shot Ms. Rich, 44, twice in the chest with a .38-caliber semiautomatic pistol and then killed himself. The scenario is common in domestic violence cases, Mrs. Mixon said.

Ms. Rich's family still is in shock. Geenie Crowder, of Modoc, lost her youngest sister on that crisp fall day last year. Looking back on it, Mrs. Crowder said, she didn't see any signs that Mr. Oliveri would hurt her sister physically.

He was a very possessive man but had never hit her, she said. Mrs. Crowder said her two sisters and her brother had grown up watching their father hit their mother until she left him. She thought she knew an abusive man when she saw one.

Now she knows they wear many faces.

"He worshipped the ground she walked on," Mrs. Crowder said of the man who took her sister's life. "The family felt that he couldn't live without her."

More than 50 people stood bundled up in the chilly night air Tuesday, remembering relatives and friends, such as Ms. Rich, who also were killed at the hands of loved ones.

But it was the voice of a survivor that brought tears to their eyes. Josephine Prescott sat motionless in her wheelchair before the crowd, and described the man who put her there.

Her husband began abusing her in 1972, shortly after they were married, she said. She left him the first time after eight years of marriage, but he kept their two children.

"He used the love of my children to keep me in that situation," Ms. Prescott said. "The hardest decision I ever made was to leave them behind."

The distance between her and the children finally took its toll. She went back to him, hoping things would be different the next time around.

"The abuse didn't stop," the Aiken woman said. "I was pregnant the last time he swung at me."

When he went to work the next day, Ms. Prescott fled to a shelter and later, an apartment. Pregnant and alone, she feared for her life every day. Late one night, she heard a car drive by and blow the horn. She knew he had found her, she said.

Ms. Prescott's 7-year-old son came home from school the next day, and when she opened the door, her husband was standing behind him. He pushed his way in and thwarted her every attempt to get help.

"He pushed me to the floor and put his fingers down my throat so no one could hear me scream," Ms. Prescott said. "He reached over to the sofa and got a pair of my son's pants. He tied them around my neck, and then he shot me five times while I lay on my stomach."

Her husband left and told his relatives he had killed his wife and unborn son. But her 7-year-old boy had called for help, saving his mother and baby brother.

Ms. Prescott is paralyzed from the shoulders down, but she's stronger than ever.

"No female should have to go through that," she told the crowd.

She now lives at Azalea Woods, a nursing home in Aiken, and attends school.

"I had no idea I would ever go to school because I had such low self-esteem," she said.

Her husband was found guilty on charges of attempted murder and carrying a concealed weapon. He spent three years in prison for the crime.

Before the candles were extinguished, Ms. Prescott encouraged the audience to seek help if they were victims of abuse.

"I want to let you know that you don't have to stay. There are laws on your side, and there are people you can talk to," she said. "Don't think you are alone. All you have to do is make up your mind that you don't want to live like this anymore."

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.


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