Wednesday, 20 October 2021 19:48

N.C. domestic violence victims recognized in memorial garden at old Richmond County courthouse

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A purple wreath sits in a memorial garden highlighting the 45 victims across the state who allegedly lost their lives to domestic violence this year. A purple wreath sits in a memorial garden highlighting the 45 victims across the state who allegedly lost their lives to domestic violence this year. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Placards bearing the names of 45 domestic violence victims from across North Carolina dot the lawn of the old Richmond County courthouse.


Those small signs comprise a memorial garden set up by New Horizons Life and Family Services in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The agency typically holds a candlelight vigil at the old courthouse, where some surviving victims share their experiences and those in law enforcement and the justice system are honored for their work to hold abusers accountable.

The 45 victims are from 32 of the state’s 100 counties and all cases are from this year. Wake and Guilford counties top the list, each with five victims. There were also three in Forsyth and two each in Mecklenburg, Wilson and Catawba counties.

The remaining counties have had one domestic violence related homicide so far this year.

While there are none from Richmond County, neighboring Moore and Scotland counties each have had one.

Bonnie Schneck, 77, was allegedly killed by her 80-year-old husband, Mark Schneck, in an apparent murder-suicide in Wagram on July 25. In the Moore County case, 40-year-old Debbie Owens was allegedly killed by her partner, 52-year-old Jimmy Dale Sheffield in Seagrove on May 27.

The majority of the victims were in their 30s. The following is a breakdown of the age groups:

  • 70s - 4
  • 60s - 3
  • 50s - 5
  • 40s - 8
  • 30s - 14
  • 20s - 9
  • Under 20 - 2

One of those under 20 was an unnamed 9-year-old girl killed in a domestic murder-suicide in Wake County.

Of the 45 cases, 11 were murder-suicides.

While most of the victims are women, six men were killed in domestic situations.

In one case in Wilson County, a man and his sister were reportedly helping their mother move from her boyfriend’s home when the boyfriend allegedly shot all three. The son and mother both died from their injuries.

Twenty of the victims were killed by a partner, 15 by a spouse and five by an ex-spouse or partner. Two of the alleged perps are listed as “current or former partner,” one is undisclosed and another is unknown.

Firearms were used in 68 percent of the homicide cases. Following is a list of weapons used or manner of death:

  • Firearm - 31
  • Knife - 1
  • Strangulation - 1
  • Unknown weapon - 12

According to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation’s Domestic Violence Homicide Report, 2020 was the deadliest year in the past decade for domestic disputes.

The report shows there were 134 domestic violence related homicides in the state last year. Eight of the 12 months had 10 or more.

The second-highest year was 2012 with 122 deaths. September 2013 was the deadliest month in the past 10 years with 18 domestic violence-related homicides. There were also 17 in January and 16 in June of that year.

SBI stats show there were 11 domestic violence-related homicides in Richmond County from 2014 to 2020: three each in 2017 and 2016; two each in 2014 and 2020; and one in 2015. There are none listed for 2016 or 2019.

Richmond County Jail records on Wednesday showed several detainees facing domestic violence charges. One of those is Mack Lewis Wertz.

Wertz is accused of tampering with a security system and setting fire to a Dobbins Heights home in May and is facing the following charges: three counts of violating a domestic violence protection order; as well as one count each of second-degree arson, felony stalking, breaking and entering, injury to personal property, communicating threats, and domestic criminal trespassing.

Wertz is being held under a $250,000 secured bond.

All defendants facing criminal charges are presumed innocent until proven guilty.