The doorbell rang and young Amanda Fennicks quickly knew something was not right.
Her mother Melissa yelled at the man at the door, he wasn’t supposed to be there, Amanda recounted Thursday evening. The man was the mother’s former boyfriend, the man who had beaten Melissa previously and the man she had just left.
“You could hear the fear in her voice,” Amanda recalled at an anti-domestic violence event Thursday evening at the YWCA. “Sitting back down on the couch, she looked afraid in a way I’d never seen her look before, like she knew something terrible was about to happen.”
Amanda Fennicks, now 24, recounted the scene in a presentation to more than 100 people. It was the scene the then-4-year-old watched unfold 20 years ago this past summer, when that man stabbed her mother to death, all in a house where seven children were present, ages 3 months to 10 years.
The remembrance of Melissa Fennicks served Thursday night as the centerpiece of a Take Back The Night event at the YWCA on Washington Avenue. The event served to focus attention on the ongoing issue of domestic violence in Schenectady and elsewhere.
It also comes as Fennicks’ family prepares to go before a state parole board later this month to help ensure that her killer remains in prison. Fennicks’ killer, Paul Clute, was sentenced to 20 years to life and is eligible for parole consideration for the first time.
Thursday’s event concluded with a march, chanting against domestic violence.
It’s an issue that is ever present.
Just this past February in Schenectady, Rafeena Rahaman was killed by her estranged boyfriend, who then killed himself. That exposed problems in how an earlier case and order of protection was handled related to the boyfriend.
Overall, according to Department of Criminal Justice Services numbers, Schenectady County had more than 1,843 reported victims of domestic violence in 2011, of which 1,501 were in the city. The 2011 numbers are down markedly from reports in 2009 and 2010, with 2,289 victims reported county wide in 2009 and 2,380 in 2010.
Those numbers come as law enforcement has been using grants to help prosecute domestic violence crimes and respond to them when they happen.
Much of the drop comes in simple assault cases in the city, with 1,229 reported in 2011, versus 1,639 reported in 2010.
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said later that simple assault cases have been a focus of a domestic violence response team started by Carney in 2010. The team that includes police, his office and victims’ advocates at the YWCA.
A member of the team goes through domestic violence cases, looking for repeat offenders and cases that could be more serious. Those are then followed with enhanced prosecution, Carney said. He said he would like to think that those efforts have helped move the numbers down.
Among the grants is more than $90,000 from a federal Violence Against Women Act, with about $75,000 of that going to salary and benefits for a domestic violence prosecutor. The remainder helps pay a portion of the director of women’s services post at the YWCA and a supervised visit program for the Center for Community Justice.
Carney has been able to continue that extra prosecutor through different grants.
But the focus of Thursday night’s event was Fennicks, and the lasting effects of domestic violence.
Carney focused on Fennicks, praising her as a hero, and her family for their ongoing advocacy on the issue of domestic violence. He recalled how, even as the 22-year-old Fennicks was being stabbed, she protected the youngest child, holding him in her arms, and away from Clute’s knife as she took the entirety of the attack. That child, 3 months old, was being baby sat that day.
Carney likened Fennicks’ act to a soldier falling on a grenade to protect his comrades.
“That’s pretty much exactly what Melissa did that day, there wasn’t a blow or a mark on that child, because she did everything she could to absorb those blows, those knife wounds.”
“She was a true hero,” Carney said.
Carney also noted that a weeping crab apple tree was planted Thursday at the YWCA in memory of Fennicks.
All three of her children were there that day: Amanda, then 4, Claudia, 2, and Arthur, 1. Arthur Fennicks, now 21, performed an anti-domestic violence rap at Thursday’s event.
Raising them after their mother died was their grandmother, Claudia Fennicks.
In a portion of her remarks, the grandmother looked toward Clute’s parole hearing. She will be there, as will others who loved Melissa, working to prevent Clute from being released.
“Melissa’s voice has been silenced, but mine is not,” Claudia Fennicks said. “I am not only her mother and her friend, but will be her advocate for as long as I am able.”
Fennicks’ daughter Amanda, who is now a nurse, got through much of the presentation on her mother’s death. Her emotion, though, couldn’t be held back by the end.
Earlier, she told of a mother who was killed by a monster, killed because she dared to leave him.
She also told of a mother who died saving her children.
“She was a hero in so many ways,” she said. “Taking all those stabs, she saved all our lives that day. We were her everything and she was still protecting us. Even if it meant risking her life, she did it.”