Lauren Hoffman

Robin Nelson and her family of boys Gavin and Liam, and daughter, Brianna, of Elyria, had big plans for the summer. Having just celebrated July 4, Nelson and her children planned on finishing out the summer before school began in August.

Over 50 panels cover the halls of LCCC’s College Center, representing the lives lost to domestic violence in Lorain County from the 1980s to 2021. (Lauren Hoffman|The Collegian)

But all of that was cut short one fateful night as Nelson’s husband decided to take the lives of her and their three children, and the family dog, before turning the gun on himself in July 2020.

Fortunately, this wasn’t the end of Nelson’s story, as she and her children and the dog are immortalized in the Silent Witness Exhibit displayed by Genesis House.

Birth of a movement

The Silent Witness Exhibit, which opened to the public Oct. 17, filled the halls of the Lorain County Community College’s college center until Oct. 24.

The exhibit, born from a movement in 1990 by a group of women from Minnesota, has since gone on to spread to all 50 states, each showing the lives lost in communities at the hands of loved ones.

According to the Genesis House website, “the women created 26 freestanding, life size, red wooden figures, each bearing the name of a woman who once lived, worked, had neighbors, friends, family, children — whose life ended violently at the hands of a husband, ex-husband, current or ex partner.”

A 27th figure was added just before the exhibit first debuted to represent those unaccounted for victims. Then on Feb. 18, 1991, more than 500 women gathered at a church across from the Minnesota State Capital to show the exhibit.

Filling the silent halls

Now, more than 30 years later, the exhibit lives on in all 50 states, each occupying the empty space the women, men and children once did.

Lorain County Community College is one of three places that the exhibit shows during October. Danelle Johnson, a psychology student at LCCC, said she sees the importance of the exhibit. “It makes me feel aware and makes those people feel seen to me,” Johnson said. “I would be oblivious if LCCC didn’t bring awareness to domestic violence.”

By the numbers

For Johnson, the project being seen on a college level especially is necessary due to the high rates of stalking and domestic violence on college campuses. According to the Genesis House, every 15 minutes, a woman is abused by a loved one and three women a day are murdered in the U.S. by partners.

But there are signs according to Information Support Specialist for the Advocacy Resource Center or ARC, Cathy Shaw. “It’s usually about power and control. If you find yourself in a position where they’re trying to keep you away from family or friends, following you places or not allowing privacy, those can be some of the early signals even before the domestic violence starts.”

Happening every day

Another family, the Hulls, were killed when Heidi’s husband shot and killed them in Sept. of 2021. (Lauren Hoffman|The Collegian)

The exhibit highlights abuse in Lorain County, Johnson said. “This is still happening in the county every day,” she said. “There was just a murder-suicide in Elyria four days ago.

“It isn’t going to stop, but we need to bring awareness.”

Elyria police released the names of the four people killed Oct. 15 in an apparent murder-suicide at a trailer home in the West Ridge Green Mobile Park. Bernadette A. Steadman, 92; James C. Steadman, 69; Lisa B. Steadman, 60; and Matthew J. Steadman, 34, died from gunshot wounds, police said, and James Steadman was the gunman.

Where to see the exhibit

The Lorain Historical Society’s Carnegie Center hosted the Silent Witness Exhibit from Oct. 4-15. The week beginning Oct. 24, the exhibit will appear at Marion Steele High School, 450 Washington St. in Amherst. The hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The exhibit will return next year in October as well during domestic violence awareness month.

Relief in Lorain County

Still despite the horrors that the silent witness exhibit shows, help is available to prevent it from getting to that point.

“In Lorain County, there are resources like the Genesis House which helps anybody, male, female, knowing the signs, safety plans and more,” says Shaw. And for students on LCCC’s main campus there is the ARC which provides help to students, staff and faculty. “The ARC first began in 1988 with the mission to help others and it is still going strong today,” Shaw says.

Manager of holistic student services Kionna McIntosh-Pharms wants to remind people that “you are not alone and you don’t have to be embarrassed by these circumstances.”

If you or someone you know is in this type of relationship, please reach out to the ARC at (440) 366-4272.