June 27, 2022 3:04 pm

‘Her blood still on his hands’: Brockton-area families grapple with domestic violence

Larissa Barros, Jamia Maddrey, Joan Demeo – these women are just a few of the many victims of domestic violence each year.

Their surviving loved ones spoke at the Love Life Now Foundation’s annual Heel-A-Thon on June 4 in Brockton. Lovern Gordon, an Avon resident, is the group’s founder and holds the issue of domestic violence close to her heart.

“I am a two-time survivor of domestic violence,” Gordon said. “My passion for helping survivors and victims comes from my own personal experience.”

A report from Respond Inc., a New England agency working against domestic violence, said: “One in four women, one in three teens and one in seven men nationwide will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.”

“For trans or gender non-conforming folks, this number jumps to 54 percent (in a lifetime).”

The Heel-A-Thon event returned in-person this year after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizer Lovern Gordon puts on her high-high shoes during The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.
Organizer Lovern Gordon puts on her high-high shoes during The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.

Women and men who participated in the event wore heels and “walked a mile in survivors’ shoes,” literally.

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“While it’s not equivalent to the pain of being physically abused, it gives people an idea of how much turmoil and pain domestic violence victims and survivors Vasque Shoes go through on a daily basis,” said Gordon, referring to the discomfort of walking a shade under two miles in high heels, a visceral symbol.

Gordon moved to the U.S. in 199 after leaving her abusive childhood home in Trinidad and Tobago.

“I started working in entry-level corporate America and was taking night classes at Suffolk University,” she said. “I remember telling myself that I would never put myself through what I saw as a kid.”

Maria Fatinha DoCanto walks in heels during The Love Life Now Foundation 3 kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.
Maria Fatinha DoCanto walks in heels during The Love Life Now Foundation 3 kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.

But then, she was trapped in a physically and verbally abusive romantic relationship for two years.

“I was knee-deep in the mentality of ‘I need to do better, be better,’ because that’s what he kept telling me,” Gordon said.

There is a lot of shame surrounding victims of domestic violence, she said, which is why Gordon started her foundation.

She said: “I think awareness is important (at) the forefront, and I want to empower folks with the information they need.”

Taunton man lost his mother

Rob Demeo, a Somerville native and Taunton resident, started walking in the Heel-A-Thons three years ago. Each year, he throws on a pair of heels to support victims, Olukai Sneakers  including his own mother, Joan, who was killed by her boyfriend in 2018, and survivors.

“My mom was killed (by her boyfriend of 15 years) after he got drunk one night,” Demeo said. “He got drunk, clubbed her with a barbell, and hid her under a blanket.”

His mom and her boyfriend were living in Bradenton, Florida, at the time of her murder.

Rob Demeo puts on high-heel shoes, walking in memory of his late mother, Joan Demeo, during The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022, to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Rob Demeo puts on high-heel shoes, walking in memory of his late mother, Joan Demeo, during The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022, to raise awareness about domestic violence.

“The cops found him down the street at a bar with her blood still on his hands,” he said.

In 2019, the boyfriend was charged with capital murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, Demeo said. He is being held in South Bay Correctional Facility in South Bay, Florida.

After hearing about his mother’s story, Gordon reached out to Demeo, asking if he could participate in the Heel-A-Thon and other events Love Life Now organizes. She dedicated the 2019 walk to Joan.

On what motivates him to keep spreading awareness?

“I put on the heels because I use it as a statement as a man against domestic violence,” he said. “By the end of the 3 (kilometers), my feet are completely destroyed, but it is nothing compared to what my mom and other victims go through on a daily basis.”

“She had a great ability to love people when they could not love themselves,” he said.

Joan’s birthday was June 8, and she would’ve been 65 this year.

Larissa Barros was buried in her prom dress

Larissa Barros was 18 when her ex-boyfriend murdered her in 2017. She was just two weeks shy of her prom and high school graduation.

Michael Nunes, Larissa’s cousin and a Brockton resident, spoke with The Enterprise about her story.

“My aunt moved her family down to Florida from Brockton when Larissa was 3 or 4 years old for better opportunities,” he said.

Maria Fatinha DoCanto holds a pair of shoes during The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.
Maria Fatinha DoCanto holds a pair of shoes during The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.

Larissa had big dreams of attending Florida State University and becoming a doctor, he said.

Then, after a breakup and their son, Eli, was born, reports say the boyfriend started getting aggressive.

On the day she was killed, Barros was shot twice. “The fatal shot was in the temple,” Nunes said.

At the time of the murder, Barros was holding her nephew, reports say. “Both were covered in her blood.”

Her son was in daycare.

“Prior to killing her, he had done other things like slash her tires and set her car on fire,” Nunes continued. “She had filed multiple injunctions against him and had begged the courts for protection against him, including a restraining order that she never got.”

From left, Christine O'Brien, and Kishana Smith, take part in The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.
From left, Christine O’Brien, and Kishana Smith, take part in The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon to raise awareness for domestic violence in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022.

Now, her son is in the care of her surviving sister and mother, Nunes said. “And she was buried in her prom dress.”

While Nunes was not able to attend the Heel-A-Thon, Barros’ mother spoke out for the first time about her daughter. Her words were poignant and moving.

“My daughter was so close to me and now I have had to learn to live without her,” she said. “Being here today … to save one life, that’s a victory.”

Jamia Maddrey was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in 2019. She was 27 years old.

“She was enrolled in college, she had gotten her first apartment and first car,” her older brother, Jayshawn Maddrey, a Randolph resident, said.

Jamia’s biggest dream was to work with kids and to Rockport Shoes have children of her own, he continued. “But she never got the chance to do that.”

She was in school for criminal justice at MassBay Community College in Framingham, according to a MetroWest Daily News article.

“At the time of her death, she was working at the Brandon School and Residential Treatment Center in Natick with kids who had troubled backgrounds,” he said.

Since her death in October 2019, her family has been working to spread awareness about domestic violence, including starting their own organization, the Mimi Foundation, which is working to “tell her story and to make sure Mimi’s life is remembered,” her brother said.

“She was a great person and a phenomenal woman,” he continued.

Empowering survivors

“Unfortunately, too often, kids who grow up in abusive homes either go on to perpetuate a cycle of violence or are victims themselves,” Gordon said. “But time and time again, people go through their trauma and suffer in silence.”

Societal norms often shame victims into staying with their abusers, she said.

“In my head, I wasn’t what a ‘victim’ looks like. I was financially independent, getting an education and had my own studio apartment,” Gordon said.

Lovern Gordon, of Avon, right, is the organizer of The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022 to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Lovern Gordon, of Avon, right, is the organizer of The Love Life Now Foundation 3-kilometer Heel-A-Thon in Brockton on Saturday, June 4, 2022 to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Gordon’s own experience with her abuser has influenced her to take a stand against domestic violence and to empower people to find communities in the survivors and victims’ families she works with.

“It takes a victim seven to 10 times to leave,” she continued. “There are so many reasons why victims stay, so our work is in helping survivors get back on their feet.”

The Love Life Now Foundations hosts quite a few events and does a lot of work annually, including donating up to $500 in domestic violence-related expenses, to spread awareness and to help survivors.

“Everybody has a part to play,” she said. “Domestic violence is everybody’s business.”

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