This is one of an occasional post from Margaret Epperheimer, an eight-year member of Next Door’s Board of Directors.

It would be easy to forget Marybel and Pedro Jimenez, who last month became San Jose’s 21st and 22nd homicide victims of the year.  Their deaths, allegedly at the hands of an ex-boyfriend, made headlines for several days until the story was no longer newsworthy.  Authorities declared the suspected killer on the run and out of the area. Marybel and Pedro, ages 27 and 28 when they were shot, were laid to rest last week. End of story.

The end, except for the children. The little people left behind. The innocents.

Marybel and Pedro didn’t live in my neighborhood. Their three young children, ages 8, 7 and 4, don’t go to school with my grandkids. But I can’t stop thinking about them. I am struck by how children are the most tragic victims of domestic violence.  Almost without exception, they are profoundly and often forever burdened with the legacy of abuse they witnessed or sustained at the hands of someone who should have been their protector.

The Jimenez situation was complex in that Marybel and Pedro, who were never married but shared the same last name, had an on-again, off-again relationship with several separations over the years.  Nonetheless, they were said to be hardworking and family-oriented. They provided for their three children, and Pedro was said to be a good father and always there for his kids. Despite the multiple break-ups, the Jimenez children must have felt relatively safe and cared for. 

During the most recent of the separations, Marybel had a boyfriend who is now the homicide suspect. But when Marybel decided to break up with her boyfriend and go back to the children’s father, the lethal cocktail of power and control that characterizes domestic violence was unleashed.

Domestic violence professionals tell us the most dangerous time for a victim is when she tells the abuser she is leaving. The abuser is obsessed with maintaining power and control over the victim, even if it means “if I can’t have you, no one can.” They also tell us homicide does not come without warning. Typically, there are threats. That was true in this case. In the early hours of July 23, the children saw their parents gunned down in their home.

The children were said to have been attached to the mother’s ex-boyfriend and, presumably, felling safe. Was the motivation behind winning the children’s trust a means to gain power and control over the mother? Can we ever truly know what went on behind closed doors? Can we even comprehend someone who offers care and concern for children to be capable of committing such a horrendous act in front of them?

The innocents are left behind. Although being cared for by relatives, the Jimenez children have a painful road ahead. Sadly, they join hundreds of thousands of other children who have been touched by domestic violence. While the vast majority of violence in the home is not lethal, the behavioral model of intimate partner relationships is set, sometimes for generations to come. We are all challenged to make a contribution to stopping the cycle. We are all responsible for spreading the word and supporting the delicate work of the gifted and dedicated people who do safety planning for high-risk escapes. Every day, lives depend on it. The future of so many innocents and a civilized and safe society depends on it.