They’re your neighbors, your waitresses, your family members and your friends. And 1 in 4 of them have been the victim of physical violence from an intimate partner at some point in their life. The stress and isolation of the pandemic has only made the problem worse.
By Billy Liggett
Ten months before Missy Bockes was found dead in her home on Jan. 5 — launching a statewide manhunt for her husband and alleged murderer and an Amber Alert for the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Riley — she was the victim of domestic violence. It isn’t known whether it was the first time. It, unfortunately, (allegedly) wasn’t the last.
On March 29, 2021, Brent James Bockes was arrested in Lexington, North Carolina, for beating and strangling his wife. A third charge was levied for misdemeanor child abuse. Missy Bockes, then living in Robbins, filed the complaint through the Moore County Sheriff’s Office. According to criminal records, Brent Bockes was arrested twice the following August for probation violations.
On Jan. 5, Sanford Police were called to a home on Lee Avenue for a wellness check by request of family members. When they arrived at the home a little after 1 p.m. that day, they discovered Missy Bockes’ body. While no cause of death has been officially announced and no further details have been released by Sanford Police, it was announced within hours that her death was being investigated as a homicide.
A statewide Amber Alert was sent out for the couple’s daughter. That night, eight hours away in Murfreesboro, Tenn., deputies there were called to the scene of a car accident on I-24. One of the cars involved in the accident — a burgundy Toyota — was left at the scene, its plate a match with the Amber Alert. After a short search involving a K-9 unit, Brent Bockes and Riley were found in the stairwell of a nearby motel. He was arrested without incident, and she was found to be physically unharmed.
Riley Bockes stayed with deputies for the next few days as winter weather delayed her return home to her sister Erikka Emmons, the adult child of Missy Bockes from a previous marriage. Their mother was buried on Jan. 14, near a small church in Carthage.
Brent Bockes remains jailed facing a first-degree murder charge. The 50-year-old Missouri native has a laundry list of offenses as an adult and spent about a decade in prison for a bank robbery conviction in 2005. He would meet and marry Missy Bockes in 2016, six years before her murder and his arrest.
Shortly after meeting Brent Bockes, Missy shared an inspirational quote on her Facebook page: “Life has knocked me down a few times. It has knocked me down a few times. It has shown me things I never wanted to see. I have experienced sadness and failures. But one thing is for sure. I will always get up.”
Days before her death, she shared another message. “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”
THE NUMBING NUMBERS
Where to begin.
Every nine seconds in the United States, a woman is assaulted or beaten. On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner. In an average year, this equals more than 10 million people.
Intimate partner violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime in the U.S. And nearly 20 percent of all domestic violence reports involve a weapon.
Locally, Sanford Police Department responded to 766 calls for domestic violence in 2020, of which 93 resulted in an investigation or charge, and 802 in 2021 (resulting in 119 investigations). The Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded to 279 calls in 2020 and 274 in 2021 (information about how many of those calls resulted in investigations or charges was not immediately available).
“Those are calls that came in specifically as domestic violence,” said William Sturkie, chief deputy of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. “When the officer arrives, if it’s determined that the altercation was just verbal it may not result in an arrest or a case. But if there’s evidence of any kind of assault, there’s going to be an arrest, and if it’s a felony assault, our detectives come out and take over.”
Felony assault can be determined by a number of aggravating factors, such as the severity of injury to the victim, but one occurrence in domestic violence cases that will automatically result in a felony charge is that of strangulation.
Both Sturkie and Maj. Vinnie Frazer of the Sanford Police Department said neither agency has officers specifically designated to deal with domestic violence cases; instead all officers are trained to respond and handle domestic violence cases.
“All of our officers are trained in those situations and know what state law requires them to do,” said Frazer.
That means understanding and thoroughly explaining the rights of the victim, when an arrest is required by law, and how to provide victims with resources like access to a shelter and other necessities, and contact information for prosecutors handling their case.
“A victim can’t just say they don’t want to press charges,” said Sturkie. “If there are apparent injuries, the statute says our officers have a responsibility and a duty to make an arrest.”
It’s not uncommon for officers of all types to run across domestic violence situations. Sturkie, for example, spent years as a narcotics agent but was all too familiar with them.
“At the end of the day, we’re all officers and we assist each other in all kinds of calls,” he said. “But even in narcotics, it’s not uncommon when you’re interviewing and dealing with those situations and suspects to find out that the relationships aren’t good ones.”
Law enforcement agencies all over the country are seeing domestic violence. And most of them are seeing more of it since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, which reports that overall cases rose by between 25 and 33 percent globally in 2020. The reasons for the rise are many — the pandemic has increased security, health and money worries for millions of families. It’s led to cramped living conditions and restrictions on travel. It’s led to more isolation with abusers and fewer public places for victims to find “safe space.”
According to a recent report by North Carolina Health News, domestic abuse is more likely when a potential offender experiences isolation from others, participates in heavy alcohol or drug use or is depressed. The pandemic has contributed to all of that. NCHN reports that 38 counties in the state responded to 24,760 domestic violence calls in 2020, 2,000 more than in the previous year.
Joey Mosley, the executive director for HAVEN in Sanford, a nonprofit organization committed to providing safety to victims and survivors of domestic violence and rape or sexual assault, said crisis calls from women and men seeking support or shelter rose in 2020 and have continued to rise since.
“One in four women in this country have experienced abuse from an intimate partner. These are our next-door neighbors, they’re our waitresses at a local restaurant, they’re hospital workers … it’s happening in our communities, whether we like it or not,” says Mosley. “[Along with the pandemic], we’re dealing with the serious issue of substance abuse in this community. We’ve definitely seen an increase — especially in crisis calls — since 2020.”
There are thousands of studies and articles supporting the rise in violence. Once can become numb to them after extensive searching.
But the number to remember is that of the women and men who never escaped the violence. In 2020, there were 134 domestic violence-related homicides in the tar heel state, according to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That number represented a 24-percent increase over the previous year.
Missy Bockes’ murder made statewide, regional and even a few national headlines because of the Amber Alert for her daughter and the dramatic capture of her husband in Tennessee that same night.
Yvonne Christiansen’s murder nearly a year before Bockes’ didn’t get quite the same attention. The 54-year-old mother was the victim of a murder-suicide at the hands of her partner, Anthony Eugene Hooker, following a breakup just days before. According to reports, Christiansen’s neighbor heard the couple fighting and called to check on them. Hooker told her not to come over, “because they would both be dead.” When deputies arrived, both were found dead from gunshot wounds. Hooker was found with a pistol in his hand.
On April 8, 2020, just a few months into the pandemic and at a time when most families were still staying home from school and work, Lee County deputies were called to a home on Edwards Road after neighbors reported a gunshot. Wendy Lynn Bryant, a 43-year-old mother of two was found laying in her yard, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. She died before a helicopter could get her to a hospital. Her 35-year-old fiancé, Craig Allen Barnes, was arrested and charged with murder. According to deputies, there had been a history of domestic violence between the two.
Barnes’ first arrest for assaulting a woman occurred in 2003 in Harnett County when he was just 19.
When Larry Ray shot his wife, Jeannie Ray, to death at their Moncure home in March 2020, the 66-year-old father of two crossed the road and killed his wife’s 93-year-old mother and two of her cousins. He then walked to another nearby home and shot and killed his wife’s 39-year-old niece and her husband. He then shot and killed himself.
Before the violent attacks that left seven dead on that day, Ray had a history of violence, having previously been charged with assaults on family members. Those charges — in 1993 and 2003 — were eventually dropped.
A SAFE HAVEN
Joey Mosley and her husband were living in Germany next door to another military couple stationed there — a couple that by all outward appearances, represented the typical American family. But the quarters were close on this particular military base, and according to Mosley, the walls were thin.
“I never expected to hear some of the things that came through those walls,” says Mosley. “One of the most surprising things about domestic violence is that more often than not, the abusers come off to others as some of the most charming, well-spoken people you’ll ever meet. Just all-around good people. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.”
Not long after Mosley’s family moved to Sanford in 2015, she took an interest in HAVEN, which launched in 1987 as the Lee County Family and Rape Crisis Center before its name change and approval by the Secretary of State in 1995. Mosley started as a volunteer and an advocate in 2018, and she worked her way up to executive director in February of 2021.
HAVEN today is many things. It’s a 24-hour-day, 365-days-a-year support center for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s an advocate for these victims through crisis intervention, hospital and law enforcement accompaniment, support at legal proceedings and liaison to professional counseling. It provides case management for each client and family, including aid in developing long-term plans to escape abusive relationships and sustain independence. It offers peer support and recovery coaching to those suffering from addiction.
“Our mission is to end domestic violence and sexual assault, and there’s no way one to do that,” Mosley says. “So our agency has so many different facets. We have our offices here, and we have our shelter here, but that’s only a part of what we do.”
The shelter plays an important role in HAVEN’s ability to work with victims in a safe, secure location. The shelter is open to victims and their families who need a place to live and sleep while working to escape an abusive relationship or family member. And while many similar shelters prefer to keep their location undisclosed or mostly “hidden” from public view, HAVEN is located right off of Sanford’s busiest thoroughfare, just blocks from downtown on Bracken Street.
“The motto was, ‘Out of the darkness, and into the light,’” Mosley says. “This building was built in a neighborhood to reflect that [domestic violence] happens in our communities. That community awareness is so important — understanding what domestic violence looks like and understanding that it’s happening right in our backyard.”
HAVEN’s facility offers 30 beds in secure rooms, inaccessible without passcodes and key cards. According to shelter coordinator Savannah Dick, the majority of the victims and their families who stay in the shelter make their first communication attempt with HAVEN through their 24-hour crisis hotline service.
“We start the screening process as soon as they tell us they need emergency shelter,” Dick says, “and once they’re in the shelter, we give them time to settle in. Once they’re ready, they meet one-on-one with an advocate, and we work with them from there. We help them find affordable housing, we offer support services, and our No. 1 goal is to help them get back on their feet, any way we can.”
HAVEN assisted 405 clients in 2020 and fielded 1,506 crisis calls. The organization also helped victims file 99 permanent protective orders that year. Through the first 24 days of January in 2022, the HAVEN had already assisted 74 clients — 31 of them staying in the shelter. They’ve also fielded 115 crisis calls. Both numbers put them on a pace to shatter numbers from just two years ago, and those numbers were an increase from that previous year.
Unfortunately, many who seek HAVEN’s assistance aren’t doing it for the first time. On average, it takes a victim of domestic violence seven attempts to permanently leave their situation. HAVEN staff workers and volunteers are trained to be listening ears and to ask, “Are you OK?” or “How can we support you?” rather than judging their situation and asking victims why they haven’t left their partner yet.
“The most dangerous time for them in these relationships is the moment they decide to leave,” Mosley says. “And that’s why safety planning is such a huge piece to what we do. It’s the most important thing we do. That safety plan can make such a big difference.”
The abuse isn’t always physical. Verbal abuse is powerful. So is economic abuse — financial control in a relationship that prevents a partner from leaving a physically abusive relationship.
“It starts out with a partner saying, ‘Oh, you don’t need to work,’” says Dick. “But that can lead to the victim losing their independent income. And with join bank accounts, it’s hard to break away when all of your financial transactions are being monitored. If you’re fleeing and you stop to get gas on the way, that’s being tracked. And money can be such a stressor in a relationship — often economic fights turn verbally and physically abusive.”
Often, HAVEN clients will find themselves in a courtroom, whether it’s to testify in an assault case or to file legal protective orders. HAVEN volunteer Carolyn York, a retired teacher, spends two days a week at the Lee County Courthouse seeking out domestic violence cases and pointing those victims toward HAVEN’s services. A sexual assault survivor herself, York knew shortly after retirement that this kind of advocacy was her calling.
And on her first day in the courtroom as a volunteer, York was surprised to find that her first potential client was a man.
“I came in expecting a totally different situation, but from Day 1, this has been such a learning experience for me,” York says.
One in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their life. One in 18 men (compared to 1 in seven women) have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed. Domestic violence can be equally prevalent in LGBTQ relationships — the idea that women are the only victims is an antiquated idea.
The staff at HAVEN — women like Mosley, Dick and data compliance manager Sofia Monge and the numerous volunteers and board members — shared a common response to the news of Missy Bockes’ murder in early January: Heartbreak.
And while the cause of Bockes’ death — allegedly at the hands of her husband — has not been released, police records show that her husband was arrested in early 2021 for strangling and assaulting her. Strangulation, Mosley says, is a strong indicator that a relationship will end in tragedy if it continues.
“The thing about strangulation is that, often, those physical marks are not necessarily present on the victim [unlike a black eye],” Mosley says. “In fact, the wounds are often on the abuser, because the victim is defending themselves and kicking or scratching. So it’s hard in these situations to see the signs of abuse or to know what to look for. It’s really important for hospitals and for police officers — even after a vicious attack where other marks are present — to know the signs of strangulation.”
“It’s scary, because strangulation means the situation is more likely to become fatal,” Dick adds. “And strangulation can have other effects on your body that a victim isn’t completely aware of. Even if it’s not fatal in the moment, it can have long-term fatal effects. It can cause brain injuries. It’s always my recommendation to get checked out and reach out for help. Reach out to anonymous services like ours. Or get a cover story and go to the ER. Just make sure you’re getting checked on.”
The work HAVEN has done over the past 25-plus years has saved lives. And it’s that statistic — it takes a victim, on average, seven attempts to leave an abusive partner — that makes the work they do so important. Each call or visit to HAVEN is productive. Each call or visit plants the seeds to help the victim eventually grow into independence.
“We have clients who come in, and we work with them for quite a long time, and then they decide to go back to their situation,” Mosley says. “And I feel at the end of the day, we know that we’ve done our part to plant those seeds. Little seeds of knowledge, whether it’s education about domestic violence or ways for them to stay safe.”
Mosley points to the “Cycle of Violence” chart she shows many of her clients. The chart, a circle, shows the “violent phase,” the apologetic “honeymoon phase” and the “tension phase” where violence isn’t present, but the threat of violence is. It’s a circle, because without intervention or the decision to leave, it often never ends.
“We hear, “Well, he didn’t mean to do it,’ or ‘He’s sorry, you know, and things are good now,’” Mosley adds. “But if they recognize what this cycle looks like, then the next time it starts over, they can see it and recognize what’s happening. And they’re better prepared, and, hopefully, ready to reach out to us again.”
Mosley says Lee County is a community full of people willing to help victims of domestic violence, and she credits the law enforcement officers, legal teams, government employees and health care workers who have become advocates and have made their jobs easier. But there’s still a long way to go, she says.
“Is this ever going to get better?” she asks. “I don’t know if we’ll ever eradicate domestic violence and sexual assault, but I do think that through community partnerships and being educated, we can certainly point people in the right direction for them to get help and start instilling things with our children to break those cycles.
“This community is amazing, and I think we can get to that point.”
HAVEN IN LEE COUNTY
Helping people heal from abuse as we work to end domestic violence and sexual assault through community, education, intervention and primary prevention.
- Hotline available 24-hour, 365 days for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault
- Victim advocacy: Crisis intervention, hospital accompaniment, referrals to other community agencies, accompaniment to law enforcement and support at legal proceedings
- Case Management for each client and family, including aid in developing a long-term plan for sustaining independent and violence-free living: Court advocacy, courthouse/on-site aid for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, guidance and support in obtaining protective orders, filing victim’s compensation claims.
- Bilingual advocacy
- Peer support and recovery coaching for those in active addiction
215 Bracken St., Sanford, N.C.
(Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year)