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Courts and Crime

Helping Victims Escape Domestic Violence: Garland Tragedy Highlights Issues

GARLAND, Maine - With the arrest of Keith Coleman for the murders of Christina Sargent and her two children in Garland over the weekend, friends and relatives have now turned their attention to raising money for the young family's funerals.

The tragedy is also highlighting the need for public awareness about domestic violence resources in Maine, not just for victims but for concerned friends and family members who want to help.

A few days before Christina Sargent died, she went next door to a friend's house and described how she was tired and scared of living with her abusive boyfriend. "She was fed up with being beat," Natasha Geisinger says. "She wanted him out but she said that she was afraid because every time she would say it he would threaten to kill her."

Geisinger says she was also scared of Keith Coleman. She says she and her own boyfriend had run-ins with Coleman, and that he was no longer welcome in their house. So, when Christina Sargent came over that day, Geisinger says she urged her to call the police.

"I kept telling her to, you know, do something," Geisinger says. "And she just said that she was scared because she said that, 'I'm afraid that he'll kill me." And I said to her, 'Well, I'll call the cops.' And she begged me not to."

Geisinger didn't call the police. And it's a decision she says she now deeply regrets. On Saturday, the bodies of Sargent, her 10-year-old son, Duwayne, and her 8-year-old daughter, Destiny, were found in their mobile home. Police say they were strangled by Coleman, who later confessed to the crimes.

"I feel like it's my fault that she's gone now because I should have done something," Geisinger says. "I feel like if I was any kind of friend I would have made her stay in my home or called the police and not have listened to her, no matter how much she begged me."

"People do their best - you know, friends and family who are trying to support someone," says Kelley Glidden, the director of community education for Safe Voices. "And people don't always know what's out there for resources that they can access."

Safe Voices is a Lewiston-based support center for those affected by domestic violence. "It's hard," Glidden says. "People don't always know the right words to say or how to have that conversation. You know, they care. They don't always know how to address that with someone."

In general, Glidden recommends that anyone who is experiencing domestic violence, or knows someone who is, to visit a domestic violence resource center, call the police who are trained in domestic violence or call a statewide helpline and speak to an advocate.

"You don't have to give any information that you don't want to. You won't be forced to do anything you don't choose to do," Glidden says. "They will listen, provide support, provide information, help connect you with other local resources you have in your community."

And, says Glidden, they can help people figure out next steps, such as developing a personal safety plan that can include everything from seeking a protection from abuse order, arranging to stay in a safe house or getting help with travel to a relative's house in another state.

Shawna Hardison, of Lincolnville, says she's convinced that her family's intervention in her own daughter's situation helped prevent domestic violence.

Hardison's daughter, who happens to be Christina Sargent's cousin, was also previously romantically involved with Keith Coleman. Hardison says it was a volatile relationship - so volatile that it took a restraining order to get him to stay away from her daughter and her grandchildren who live in another state.

"My take-away message for every woman out there is:  Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are people out there that can, and are willing to, help. Don't wait until it's too late."

The statewide domestic violence hotline number in Maine is 1-866-834-HELP.