Purple-clad friends and advocates gathered in front of the Sumter County Judicial Center on Friday, their purpose to honor a slain mother, their hope to stop future domestic abuse before it ends with a funeral.
The YWCA of the Upper Lowlands held …
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The YWCA of the Upper Lowlands held a candlelight vigil in memory of Sharee Bradley, a 29-year-old who was found dead from blunt force, sharp injuries in her Sumter home on Aug. 5. A 28-year-old man has been arrested and charged with murder in the case, and the two were known to have had a relationship.
"This one was one too many," said Cleyardis McDonald-Amaker, a volunteer who has long advocated for the YWCA, a nonprofit that shelters, counsels, advocates for and provides services to survivors of domestic violence in Sumter, Lee and Clarendon counties.
"Many" comes out to 1,800 women murdered by men in 2016 across the nation. The most common weapon used was a gun, according to the most recent Violence Policy Center data. The research, investigation, analysis and advocacy organization found that 93% of women killed by men that year were murdered by someone they knew.
Since the VPS started collecting such statistics in 2001, South Carolina has ranked in the top 10 for states with the most men who murder women, according to the YWCA and the VPC. In the most recent rankings (2016), South Carolina ranked sixth with 48 female homicide victims, equaling 1.88 per 100,000 females.
There are two YWCAs in South Carolina - Sumter and Charleston. Sumter's shelter housed 5,493 adults and their children in 2016-17, the most recent year with complete data.
The group both provides services for victims and promotes awareness and education to help prevent domestic violence and to help empower women to leave an abusive situation.
"Don't feel embarrassed. So many women feel like it's only happening me," said Caitlin Lee, a lawyer from Sumter who is part of the Voices Against Violence Committee, a division of the S.C. Bar's Young Lawyers Division. She is currently organizing a supplies drive for the YWCA.
Yolanda Wilson, executive director at the YWCA in Sumter, said she wants women to know there are outlets and a safe space for them and their children to escape to in Sumter. She said the time after a death like Bradley's is sad and unfortunate, but she tries to use it as an opportunity to spread awareness.
"Everyone assumes they know what domestic violence is," she said, "but it can be so much more than physical."
Abuse from an intimate partner, spouse or family member can be physical, sexual, emotional and economic and can also come in the form of isolation. Causing fear of leaving for suffering the repercussions or for not being able to make it on your own is also abuse.
"If you recognize the signs, call us or a first responder," she said. "We're a safe space, and everything you talk about and do with us is confidential."
Wilson said it takes an average of seven tries for a woman to finally leave an abusive relationship for good. Relocating may be part of that final step, and the YWCA helps women and their children do that.
She said calls to the YWCA have doubled since Bradley's death.
"I think they're seeing this and thinking it's happening in my community and it could've been me," she said.
As Bradley's family, including her sister and her grandfather, sat in the stark afternoon sun in a receiving line likely unlike what will be at her funeral today (Saturday), a small group of friends had already spent their day advocating for another family member who was absent.
Bradley's 5-year-old daughter, Neveah Adams, has been missing since the day Bradley was found dead. The man suspected in Bradley's death told Sumter police he killed them both, but her body remains missing.
Sabrina Belcher took the lead among a group who has been calling for an Amber Alert to be issued for the girl. Police have said the case did and does not meet federal guidelines for such an alert due to a lack of car and license plate in which she could have been abducted in and a lack of a suspect being at large.
Belcher and one of Bradley's cousins, Amoree Smith, set up snacks, waters and sodas at Crosswell Park earlier Friday, inviting people to stop by and sign the petition. Online at Change.org, it had received 3,380 signatures as of Friday night.
Belcher said she also wants the South Carolina legislature to pass a criminal domestic violence registry bill and to create an alert system in apartments that allows someone to quietly alert 911 of domestic danger.
She said this case had upset her so much that she intends to run for city council.
"You can't help the people if you don't live with them," she said.
Sumter police spent last week searching through 230 tons of garbage after the suspect told them he dumped her body into a city Dumpster than had been emptied in the meantime. They and the community have also searched the area surrounding the Lantana Apartments off Carolina Avenue to no avail.
"That little girl is 5 years old," Belcher said. "She can't speak for herself."
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