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ROWN POINT — Tears and emotion marked the 22nd annual Candlelight Vigil for St. Jude House dedicated to remembering all victims of domestic violence at the old Lake County Courthouse.

The vigil, which gives the community an opportunity to come together, began with a silent march to honor the memory of dozens of people who lost their lives to domestic violence. Their names were written on a white paper bag, along with the date of their death, and lined up on the courthouse steps.

As people marched around the courthouse, led by the Merrillville Fire Department Honor Guard and the Pipes and Drums of the Lake County Sheriff's Department, they held signs up saying, "Violence is not Love" and "Say No to Abuse." 

The St. Jude House Clothesline Project was on display on the south side of the courthouse lawn.

Survivor Errienne Amacker said she became a victim of domestic abuse when her mother died in 2015, and she felt alone. She said she met a man who became her whole world soon after her mother's death.

Eventually, she lost her home, her job and her car and became totally dependent on the man.

"I needed to feel loved," she said. "I thought the sun and moon rose on him but he began to beat me and sexually abuse me. He treated me like a dog and talked to me a like a dog. I come from a family of strong women and I have daughters. I had to develop an escape plan and I called St. Jude."

Listening in the audience, Stacy Williams, of Griffith, said she was married to a man who abused her for 14 years before she left him.

"I'm a survivor," she said before the service began.

"I am a life coach. I own my own business today. I'm only 4½ years out from being completely killed. This needs to be out in the public. We know we should have left earlier but didn't. It's good to come out and show there are faces behind the domestic violence," Williams said.

George and Claudia Matusik, of Highland, said they came out because it's so important to support this issue. Claudia Matusik said her mother was a victim of mental abuse for more than 50 years before her husband's death.

St. Jude House executive director Linda Perez became emotional as she talked about St. Jude House and what it offers to victims of domestic abuse. She said it's not limited to women.

"One in four women and one in seven men across the nation suffer domestic abuse," she told the crowd around the courthouse. "Either you, someone you know or someone you love has been affected by domestic abuse. It's something people don't like to talk about."

Crown Point Police Chief Pete Land, Schererville Police Chief Dave Dowling who is on the St. Jude House Board of Directors, and new Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. all pledged their support to St. Jude House and assisting victims of domestic abuse.

Another guest speaker, Hanna Elizabeth Fray, Mrs. Indiana United States, said her mother was the victim of physical abuse from her stepfather, and she and her younger brother were the victims of mental and emotional abuse.

"It spanned my middle and high school years and I was always embarrassed about bringing people home," she said. "We never knew what kind of mood my stepfather would be in or what might send him into an event. The abuse does not define who you are."

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.