MIAMI — With many in this area still reeling from the recent tragic domestic violence-related shootings and deaths in Miami, local officials ensure the public that help is nearby and available 24/7 for anyone who is a victim of domestic violence.

A candlelight vigil was held recently for one of the victims of a deadly Oct. 15 shooting in Miami when local student Kayla Billings was allegedly shot and killed by her father, David Billings, who later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Kayla’s mother, Melissa Wallace, and her reported boyfriend, James Miller also were shot.

The police report indicates Wallace and David Billings had “ongoing domestic issues.”

The tragic incident has many thinking about issues surrounding domestic violence and officials here are quick to offer help and resources.

“The Community Crisis Center (CCC) serves victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in Ottawa, Delaware and Craig counties. We have five locations — a 24-bed shelter and the Fern Holland Walk-In Advocacy Center in Miami, as well as walk-in centers in Vinita, Grove, and Jay,” said Kelsey Samuels, CCC executive director.

“Annually, we serve over 600 clients and can provide emergency housing, court accompaniment, advocacy, protective order assistance, and resource referral.”

Samuels is committed to growing and developing programs related to domestic violence and sexual assault crisis response and prevention for women, men, and children in the tri-county area.

“We also have a counseling program, a designated Legal Aid attorney who can provide assistance in court, and a housing program. We encourage anyone in need of services to call our 24/7 hotline,” Samuels said.

The Crisis Center and Fern Holland Advocacy Center empower individuals and families to end domestic violence by providing client services, prevention education, community collaboration, and public awareness. Their victim services are free and available for women and men.

Working to end intimate partner violence since 1981, the center is certified by the office of the Attorney General and is dedicated to honoring Fern L. Holland's human rights legacy.

It opened the first shelter in Miami in 1982 and has since welcomed thousands of families with food, clothing, and support. Their 24-bed shelter is filled to capacity every day.

The center also opened satellite advocacy centers in Vinita and Jay in 1997 and has trained advocates that are prepared to help victims stay safe and access resources.

Their state-certified Batterer’s Intervention program was initiated in 2002, followed by aggressive prevention, education, and outreach programs.

Feeling alone and uncertain is natural when experiencing domestic violence. Advocates understand intimate partner violence and why confidentiality is vital. They help with shelter, counseling, court accompaniment, referral to legal assistance, and housing resources for men and women.

Support is free, confidential, and available to anyone in need and, should medical care be necessary, the cost may be covered by Oklahoma Crime Victim's Compensation.

Prevention, education and outreach programs help youth build safe relationships, teach that overcoming trauma starts with understanding, and offer weekly shelter-based support groups and counseling to help victims recover from violence and heal.

Trained advocates are available 24-hours daily to help anyone living with domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. They respond immediately when a crisis occurs and do not require adults using their services to report to law enforcement.

Advocates also help with protection order applications and attend court hearings with victims, and the Peace Wing permanent housing support program provides victims the opportunity for independence and stability with long-term housing.

Counseling support helps victims navigate and heal from trauma, and legal and housing assistance programs promote independence by helping qualified participants secure legal counsel for emergency custody and protection order cases, and cover a portion of rent and utility costs when available.

A 52-week Batterer Intervention program that teaches offenders healthy alternatives to dominating and violent behavior often used in intimate partner relationships also is available.

When you call the hotline or visit an advocacy center, those at the CCC will listen to your concerns, make sure you are safe, assure any information you provide will not be shared, help you support a friend or loved one, and offer no-cost services and resources.

“Domestic violence is something we encounter probably on a daily basis,” Ottawa County Sheriff Jeremy Floyd said. “It’s something that is alarming and, at the same time, it’s one of the most dangerous calls we go on because of the unknown and because the emotions are high.

“Officers may have to separate parties to find out what’s going on and, at the conclusion of the call, we may have to make an arrest based on the outcome, and that hurts as well. From my experience, on many occasions we arrest the husband, per se, for being the primary aggressor in a situation and he is the only one bringing money into the household, then the wife is upset because we are taking away that support. It puts us between a rock and a hard place, but we have to do what is necessary to make sure that the safety of everyone involved is addressed.

“Our ratio of domestic violence calls, if I was estimating, is 20 percent or two out of every 10 calls. There are a lot of resources that an individual can reach out to in order to obtain information and help to get out of that relationship or seek some type of counseling,” Floyd said.

In Ottawa County, there was one domestic violence homicide victim in 2016 and, from 1998 to 2016, 14, according to a report from the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board (ODVFRB):

Ottawa County statistics show no murders in 2015, one sex crime, one assault, and 75 assault & battery cases. For 2016, the county had one murder, three sex crimes, zero assaults and 40 assault and battery cases.

In 2017 the report shows zero murders, 11 sex crimes, nine assaults, and 97 assault & battery cases.

“Oklahoma continues to have a problem with domestic violence homicides and we in the field believe it is due to the fact that offenders are rarely held accountable until it’s too late,” said Mackenzie L. Masilon, Public Policy and Communications Coordinator for the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. “When you have a domestic violence homicide, you can see where the system failed the victim by looking into the history of crimes committed by the offender. It is imperative that victims are aware of the resources in their area, such as the CCC in Miami, as well as the various tribal programs that serve all individuals.”

If anyone experiences abuse, call the Oklahoma SAFELINE at 800-522-7233 to connect with advocates in the area, Masilon said.

“I would encourage everyone, if they feel they are in a relationship where there is physical harm, to seek some type of safety or help. If that harm continues for a period of time I have seen it progress to the point where there is serious bodily injury or even murder. Definitely seek help. If you ever feel like you are in a situation like that just walk away and get to safety then give us a call and we can address it,” Floyd said.

On average, an Oklahoman dies every five days as a result of domestic violence, based on homicide numbers compiled by the ODVFRB.

Despite the efforts of service providers and other advocates, Oklahoma has struggled to reduce the number of domestic violence homicides.

According to the ODVFRB, from 1998 through 2016 the number of victims killed in domestic violence homicides in Oklahoma fluctuated, ranging between 63 in 2002 to 98 in 2004.

From 2012 through 2016, the number of domestic violence homicide victims increased slightly, from 88 to 95, each year.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, almost four in 10 women in Oklahoma have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

In recent years, Oklahoma often has ranked among the worst states in the nation for the rate of women killed by men, according to annual reports by the Violence Policy Center, a national research and advocacy organization.

The state did show some improvement during the most recent report, which was based on homicide data from 2015, moving to 15th place from fourth place the previous year.

Domestic violence-related homicides in 2016 in Oklahoma, according to the fatality review board, killed a total of 95 victims. The oldest was 78; the youngest was a newborn.

An intimate partner or a family member killed most, and more than half were killed with a firearm.

Intimate partner violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used to gain control over another. It can happen to anyone regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation and includes verbal and emotional abuse, financial abuse, physical or sexual violence, and stalking.

Those needing help with domestic abuse and/or violence can call or stop by one of the local centers, or call a 24-hour hotline at 800-400-0883.

The Fern L. Holland Advocacy Center (Community Crisis Center) is located at 118 A SE, Miami, 918-540-2275, or https://getmeout.org

Other local services include the Quapaw Family Services Center, 918-542-4232; the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 918-542-3396, and the Salvation Army, 918-542-3467.

Other tribal domestic violence programs include Wyandotte, 918-678-6324; Seneca Cayuga, 918-787-5452, and the Eastern Shawnee, 918-666-3264.