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Domestic-abuse deaths still high in Jacksonville; the latest is pregnant 21-year-old

"Some people think abuse may stop when somebody gets pregnant. But oftentimes it starts or escalates during pregnancy."

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Felica Jones was 21 years old and nine months pregnant, due to deliver this week.

Last Saturday she was found dead in a Northside park, and four days later a 19-year-old man was arrested on two counts of second-degree murder, one for the unborn baby, police said. That man, Reginald Lawrence Perry Jr., has been identified as the father, Jones' family told news partner First Coast News.

The arrest came just ahead of the city releasing sobering 2020 Domestic Violence Fatality Review statistics as Domestic Violence Awareness Month began Friday. The 2020 numbers showed a slight decrease from 2019's, with Assistant State Attorney Khary Gaynor noting there were 14 abuse-related homicides in Jacksonville — eight involving intimate partners.

Jones was the latest and is among several pregnant victims in recent years in Jacksonville.

"Some people think abuse may stop when somebody gets pregnant. But oftentimes it starts or escalates during pregnancy," said Gail Patin, CEO of Hubbard House, Jacksonville's longtime domestic-abuse shelter and counseling site. "If there is someone who has been in an abusive relationship and gets pregnant, this situation shows how important it is to get the word out ... that there is help, there is hope and just make that phone call. I know it is really hard to make a phone call sometimes, but it may be the one thing that saves your life."

A survivor of domestic abuse who spoke at Friday's news conference via Zoom said the 21-year-old's death reminded her of herself once.

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More:$1 million grant given to Hubbard House to help its domestic-abuse programs

Identified only as Kimberly, she said she survived serious abusive relationships with three men, all moving from emotional abuse to physical violence. One left her with a "bloody, mangled hand" after biting her, and another pulled a gun on her in front of her 2-year-old daughter. 

"That was one that was very heartbreaking for me to read about having been in that experience myself when I was abused during pregnancy," Kimberly said of Jones. "My only hope and prayer is definitely for her family because I can't imagine what they are going through right now."

The numbers don't lie

Deaths due to domestic violence have become nationwide news, like the recent death of North Port resident Gabby Petito and the continuing manhunt for her 23-year-old boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. Police bodycam footage during an Aug. 12 traffic stop and a 911 call raised questions about possible domestic-violence issues between the couple.

One in three women has experienced intimate partner violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than half of female homicide victims in the United States are killed by a current or former intimate male partner.

Domestic abuse fatality cases reviewed by the State Attorney's Office's Fatality Review Committee showed 2020's numbers as follows: 

• 64 percent of all domestic-violence suspects used a firearm as their method of homicide, most of those intimate partners.

• 11 of the 14 cases (79 percent) of all domestic-violence homicides involved male suspects. Females comprised 64 percent of the victims. And 25 percent of female suspects in intimate cases were defending themselves from attack by a partner or former partner who had a history of domestic violence.

• In 57 percent of the homicides, substance abuse or the claims of illegal drug use were indicated about the suspect or victim. This occurred at a significantly higher rate of 75 percent for non-intimate-partner deaths.

• 25 percent of the intimate-partner homicides involved an abuser who had previously been referred to a Batterers' Intervention Program. There were no records of the abuser having completed the program in those cases, with one arrested for failing to do so. From 1997-2020, there were only 21 percent of documented cases of an offender completing the program.

More:Family mourns Jacksonville woman shot by boyfriend; nephew wounded

"These sobering statistics continue to highlight that women are still extremely vulnerable in domestic-violence situations," said Gaynor, the Special Victims Unit division chief. "Firearms are still extremely prevalent as with previous years, and remain the primary weapon of domestic violence homicides."

For comparison, the 2019 report of the Duval County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team had 16 domestic-violence homicides for 2019, half caused by a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. That is compared to 13 people killed in 2018, 12 of them intimate partners.

Only five of the 16 suspects in 2019 had been arrested previously for domestic violence, and none had taken any domestic-violence intervention programs, the report said. That's compared to just three suspects going to programs in 2018 and only one completing it.

Don't be a silent victim

Wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness ribbon on his jacket, Sheriff Mike Williams said it hasn't got any better this year with eight domestic-abuse deaths as of Sept. 15. That doesn't count Jones.

"Unless that number is zero, one is too many," he said, telling victims not to suffer in silence because "there is a way out" by calling police.

Kimberly said she never told her family or friends of the abuse she received from the men in her life.

In case you missed it:Women in domestic-violence shelters were handed free lipstick. Find out what happened next.

"I didn't want their judgment," she said. "In that moment, I wanted to protect my family so I smiled often and I hid behind saying 'Everything is good.'"

She said she ultimately fled with her child and went to therapy, a "long road" that helped her rediscover herself to regain a better life and safety for the three children she has now. Now she has a master's degree in business administration and speaks out on domestic abuse, urging others who are "hiding like I did" to seek help.

"I am proof that my past does not define my future," she said. "The abuse could have ended my life and I wouldn't be here to share my message of seeking help."

Hubbard House is celebrating its 45th anniversary after taking 108,000 calls on its abuse hotline sheltering 47,000-plus victims and having "saved tens of thousands of lives," Patin said.

That celebration includes the 27th annual Barbara Ann Campbell Memorial Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, 225 E. Coastline Drive, cost $50 per ticket at hubbardhouse.org/breakfast. Hubbard House also is having a public anniversary celebration from noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 31 at Klutho Park at 204 W. Third St. with music, treats and children's activities.

Anyone who sees signs of potential abuse in a family member or friend, or is suffering themselves, should report it to police or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 500-1119 to find services in any community.

Area domestic abuse agencies have hotlines as well. Hubbard House’s is (904) 354-3114, while its new text message line is (904) 210-3698. St. Johns County’s Betty Griffin Center’s hotline is (904) 824-1555. Clay County’s Quigley House hotline is (904) 284-0061. Nassau County’s Micah’s Place hotline is (904) 225-9979.

A copy of the Duval County's Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team report is available at hubbardhouse.org.

dscanlan@jacksonville.com:(904) 359-4549

Recent cases involving pregnant victims

Sept. 25, 2021: Felicia Rosa Jones, 21, was found dead by someone walking in Riverview Park on Water Street. Her baby was going to be Ma’kailand Jones, due in two weeks. The baby's father, Reginald Lawrence Perry Jr., 19, turned himself in on Wednesday. It was unclear whether the couple was still together or had past domestic issues.

June 14, 2021: An unidentified pregnant woman in her 30s was shot in the abdomen in front of her home on Woodbine Street with her three young sons nearby. She was left with life-threatening injuries and no arrests or motive has been reported.

Sept. 29, 2020: An unidentified pregnant woman in her 20s was shot inside her Kona Avenue apartment, and her unborn child did not survive. Police said the woman was the target of the shooting and three other adults were present, but no arrests or motive reported.

May 16, 2020: An unidentified woman being treated for possible domestic battery at Baptist Health lost two fetuses. The Sheriff's Office lists these as homicides "due to abdominal impact," but arrests have been reported. 

Oct. 7, 2019: Multiple shots were fired into the Justina Road apartment of Iyana Iman McGraw, 19. She died at a hospital, but doctors were able to save her baby who died three months later. Boyfriend Miles Davis Hall, 26, was arrested on drug charges and possession of a firearm by a felon and may have been the target.

Dec. 19, 2018: Iyana Sawyer, 16, disappeared while five months pregnant. Her uncle, Johnathan Joyco Quiles, 33, is charged with two counts of murder as well as sexual battery. No body has been found.

April 22, 2017: D’Anna Thorn, 29, was pregnant when she was stabbed multiple times at a home on West 21st Street, then her and the unborn child died at the hospital. Boyfriend Armanuel Nathaniel Cummings, 42, was arrested on two counts of manslaughter.

You can read more from our partners at the Florida Times-Union.

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