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Checklist gives signs of potential for danger

November 13, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - With the homicides of four women in the region since July focusing attention on violence against women, officials at the Shenandoah Women's Center worried have developed a tool to help prevent more slayings.

The domestic violence center is distributing a checklist women can use to determine if their spouses may become homicidal. It was developed by a former New York police captain who recently received a master's degree in counseling.

John Streeter said the checklist is not scientific, but can help women determine if they are in danger.

"Our purpose is not to frighten anyone. Our purpose is to help people be aware," said Streeter, a 23-year veteran of the Suffolk County Police Department, which serves the eastern half of Long Island, N.Y.

Women who are in violent relationships are asked to sit down with a Shenandoah Women's Center counselor and review 19 items on the checklist. If 16 or more items apply, center officials realize they may have a serious concern, and they offer the client ways to protect herself, according to center director Ann Smith.

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Among the warnings signs are if the man is possessive, a loner, has been in trouble with the law, has made previous threats, or if the couple is facing separation or divorce.

If Shenandoah Women's Center officials determine a woman is in danger, they can help her develop a safety plan.

If she has obtained a family protection order from her spouse, the plan urges the woman to change the locks on her house. If the client has children, she is instructed to inform schools and day care centers who has permission to pick up her children.

Women are also offered tips on how to get out of their house quickly and advised to have a code word with children and neighbors which can be used when police are needed.

Concern about violence against women has been heightened as police grapple with a string of homicides since last July that have either occurred in the region or have involved women from the area.

The most recent slaying occurred Nov. 5 when Theresa Lynn Mugnano, 32, of Berkeley County, was shot three times as she sat in a pick-up truck at a service station in Greenbrier County, W.Va. Her boyfriend, Gary Wayne Sims, 27, of Mockingbird Mobile Court near Gerrardstown, was shot in the face as he left the gas station's restroom.

Theresa Mugnano's estranged husband, Andrew Mugnano, 36, of 959 Middleway Road near Bunker Hill, W.Va., has been charged with murder and malicious assault, according to Greenbrier County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Hanson.

The Mugnanos were scheduled for a hearing before a family lawmaster last Wednesday morning concerning divorce proceedings filed by Andrew Mugnano on Sept. 10, according to Berkeley County Circuit Court records.

Smith said that is significant because research has shown that the process of divorce is a period of high risk for women. Women have a 75 percent greater risk of being slain by a violent husband during that time, according to the center.

On Oct. 25, the body of Deborah Grove, 46, of Martinsburg, was found in an apple orchard off Arden Nollville Road. Jerry Lee Hess Jr., 31, of Hedgesville, who left a bar to have sex with Grove, has been charged in the stabbing and beating death of Grove.

On Aug. 10, the body of Vatressa Maria Miller, 20, of Hedgesville, was found in an undeveloped housing subdivision off W.Va. 45 west of Martinsburg. Investigators believe she may have been sexually assaulted. No arrests have been made in the case.

On July 25, the body of Kimberly Dawn Alexander, 32, of Winchester, Va., was found in a filed along U.S. 340 near Cave Road south of Charles Town. No arrests have been made in the case.

Smith said the violence checklists have been distributed to police departments in the Eastern Panhandle. They are also available from the center by dialing 304-263-2944.

See related item: Warning signs

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