Woman's murder raises questions about help for abuse victims

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Days after Jennifer McKeon's violent death, questions linger on the minds of the staff at the Gulf Coast Women's Center for Non-Violence.

"What could we have done as an agency to intervene? Could we have done more? How did she fall through the gaps?" asked Sandra Morrison on Friday. "We really don't want to see that happen. We are here to help women and protect them.  So that in a sense, we do mourn it."

Sandra Morrison is the center's Executive Director. Because of confidentially rules, she is not allowed to talk about the McKeon case. Morrison said she is surprised to hear the victim endured so much abuse.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd said McKeon ended up in the emergency room 27 times in just eight months.  The 32-year-old woman died early Monday morning, after she was allegedly beaten, choked, and slammed against a wall.  Her boyfriend, 44-year-old Mark Anthony Fountain, is charged with her murder.

"To me, she's a survivor in some sort of way. Most people don't survive that kind of physical abuse or battering," Morrison said. "I feel very confident in saying that the hospital probably did make a referral to our office, that the law enforcement made a referral. Sometimes there are gaps and people fall through the gaps and the referrals aren't made."

This month, the center is launching a new program that's aimed at reaching out to people who may be falling through the cracks.  The Coordinated Community Response Program brings together police officers, hospital staff, and community members to discuss domestic violence prevention issues.

"We had someone that had been reported to the ER 27 times," said Morrison. "If we had this Community Coordinated Response, we would know about it as an agency. The law enforcement would know about it. So it wouldn't have been such a shock when we found out that this had happened."

Morrison said in the end, it is up to the victims to overcome their fears and seek help.

"Women are scared. The fear of getting help for some women is greater than getting help.  That's because she's told, 'If you get help, I will kill you or I'll kill who you're going to get help from.' We do want to give them what they need to empower themselves and encourage them and let them know that we're here and we have a lot of services," Morrison said.

Morrison said hospitals are not mandated to report domestic abuse cases to the police, and sometimes women lie about their injuries out of fear of their abusers.  She said domestic abuse is a misdemeanor.  It becomes a felony after the second conviction.

If you or someone you know is involved in an abusive situation you can call the Gulf Coast Women's Center. That number is (228) 436-3809.

Just so you know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.