This weekend, I was anchoring the weekend shows at WUSA9 when we got word that 3 cops had been shot in Woodbridge, VA. We sent our nightside crew there, and then started to dig for details. Shelia Wright, who works our assignment desk, started making calls and trying to handle the phones which were ringing off the hook. I started calling neighbors on the block where we heard the shooting took place. As Shelia looked through tweets, and researched who lived in the home, I listened to the radio dispatch starting from the time of the initial 911 call. Our reporter Matt Yurus and photographer Lee Jenkins were on the ground, talking to neighbors and police, gathering video and interviews.
Little by little, we pieced together information. It wasn’t long before we learned the man who lived at the house shot his wife to death, as well as a police officer who responded first. In addition, the man shot two other police officers, before giving himself up. The couple’s 11-year-old son allegedly ran from the home right before his father shot his mom and then surrendered. My heart felt heavy, and a somber mood took hold of the newsroom. What a horrific shame.
In the days to come, we learned about the young police officer who died. It was 28-year-old Ashley Guindon’s first day on the job. Yes, her first. We also learned the wife’s name was Crystal Hamilton, she worked with wounded warriors, and had a close-knit group of friends who adored her. We learned that 11-year-old son was staying with family. And we learned that the man who admitted to killing his wife and Officer Guindon was 32-year-old Ronald Hamilton, an Army Staff Sergeant who worked at the Pentagon focusing on IT. He’s now facing murder charges and possibly the death penalty.
Matt had talked to some of Crystal’s friends and neighbors at the scene. Over the course of the next 36 hours, he learned disturbing details about Crystal’s last days. Her best friend, Shayna Columga, shared that she had witnessed Ronald being abusive towards Crystal. She said he put a GPS tracking device on her car, monitored her social media and made her take posts down, regularly cut off her credit and debit cards, and had multiple extramarital affairs.
Colunga says she recalled one time they were out at a restaurant, and Ronald barged in and made a scene, grabbing Crystal and making her leave. The manager called police.
Hamilton’s sister, Wendy Howard, told a reporter that she was aware of friction between the marriage and that Ronald had banned Crystal’s mother from their home last year.
By all accounts, Crystal was a loving mom of a child who did extremely well in school, according to his friends. She was beloved at her job at the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment where they called her a cherished member who made a positive impact on so many lives. She was beautiful and could light up a room when she walked into it, according to Colunga. And she’s gone. At 29 years old. And, another young woman is now gone too, Officer Ashley Guindon, not to mention two other officers are recovering, and an 11-year-old boy may never get over what has become of the family he no doubt tried to hold together.
This is domestic violence: The controlling. The power. The “where are you?” “God, you can’t do anything right, can you?” “Come with me, NOW.” We all know that if someone we’re in a relationship with beats us up, that’s domestic violence. It’s clear. But, when someone tried to control you mentally and financially, that is also an indicator of domestic abuse. It happens more often and to more people than some of us realize. In fact, 1 of 3 women have become victims of some sort of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
It’s the possessive, controlling behaviors that are subtle in the beginning but that intensify over time. Here are some signs you can look out for in your own relationship, and to be aware of in your friends’ relationships:
- Telling you that you can never do anything right
- Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
- Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
- Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
- Controlling every penny spent in the household
- Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
- Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
- Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
- Preventing you from making your own decisions
- Telling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children
- Preventing you from working or attending school
- Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets
- Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons
- Pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with
- Pressuring you to use drugs or alcohol
If any of these signs ring true for you, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.
I believe it is our duty to always go out of our way to stand up for someone’s greatness one time more than they stand for their smallness. If you see the signs of domestic violence, go the extra mile for a friend, without judgment. Let them know you’re there. Ask if you can dial the hotline number on your phone, or visit ncadv.org on your computer, rather than theirs to avoid putting them in a potentially dangerous situation. Listen. Love.
Rest in peace, Crystal.