DAs lead Valley-wide domestic violence drive

In this 2021 file photo, a stop sign outside the Cameron County Administrative Office reads “A Signal of Hope.” The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office held a press conference on Friday on Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (Laura B. Martinez/The Brownsville Herald)

The Rio Grande Valley’s top law enforcement officials are teaming up to focus on domestic violence after Texas’ third-highest death toll leaves 204 victims dead, including the highest number of firearm deaths ever recorded.

Next week, district attorneys from Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy and Starr counties are holding Valley-wide press conferences to bring awareness to domestic violence while offering victims help.

On Tuesday, officials with the Rio Grande Valley District Attorney Coalition will be riding in caravans to Willacy County before traveling to Cameron County on Wednesday, Hidalgo County on Thursday and Starr County on Friday to spotlight October as Domestic Violence Awareness month.

“This is a combined effort among the DAs of the four counties,” Willacy County District Attorney Annette Hinojosa said Friday, adding officials plan to travel in caravans. “This way we’re putting on that big show of support across the entire Rio Grande Valley.”

Heightening awareness

On Tuesday, Hinojosa, Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez and Starr County District Attorney Gocha Ramirez will lead the first press conference set for 10:30 a.m. on the Willacy County Courthouse’s south lawn.

Last year, domestic violence led to 204 deaths across Texas, the state’s third-highest death toll on record, Hinojosa said.

“The main point we’re trying to shed light on is that domestic violence permeates into our society,” she said during an interview. “We want to examine our communities and talk about these facts. We know the first step to a solution is to create awareness of how widespread the problem is. We also want to show a law enforcement and prosecution presence. When you’re ready, law enforcement is ready to assist you.”

Third-highest death toll

Of last year’s 204 deaths, victims included 169 women and 35 men, Hinojosa said.

Meanwhile, most victims died of gunshot wounds, the Texas Council on Family Violence stated.

“Three times as many victims were killed with a firearm than all other means combined, accounting for 75% of total homicides,” the organization stated, adding victims ranged from 16 to 85. “This is the highest number of deaths by firearm ever recorded in a single year – 154 victims. Nearly 75 percent of the victims were killed in their own home. Nearly half of all victims had made attempts to seek help or end the violent relationship, demonstrating that leaving an abusive partner is one of the most dangerous times for survivors.”

Deaths among loved ones

In Willacy County, domestic violence has led to one death this year, the first here in five years, Hinojosa said.

Too often, families hide cases of domestic violence.

“This happens in homes among loved ones,” Hinojosa said. “Every day, children and adults are victims. It’s a staggering number. The impact is far-reaching and long-lasting. The impact of domestic violence on children — children just seeing it experience a lifetime of emotional trauma. There are long-term effects. We see a cycle of abuse — a continuing cycle.”

Deaths down in Hidalgo County

In Hidalgo County, domestic violence has led to five deaths this year, down from 12 last year, Rodriguez said.

“One death is too much,” he said during an interview. “As we do more to bring awareness, I think we’ll do more to get people help and stop people from dying. There are more people being vigilant. We’re trying to stop that and get people educated as to who they can turn to and where they can go for help.”