Remembering Laura: Domestic violence resource center opens its doors

Friday, December 12, 2014
From left to right, Linda Maiella, Laura Ponce and Barb Weems-Mourgila remember Ponce's daughter Laura Aceves at the Purple Flower Domestic Violence Resource and Support Center. (David Bell/Carroll County News)

As people filed into the courtroom in October to hear whether Victor Acuna-Sanchez would be convicted of murdering Laura Aceves on New Year's Eve 2012, Linda Maiella, Barb Weems-Mourgila and Aceves' mother, Laura Ponce, took their seats on a front-row pew.

Maiella placed a purple flower on the courtroom banister in remembrance of Aceves, who was 21 when she died.

Acuna-Sanchez confessed to killing the mother of his child and Ponce took the flower home and "slept for a week." The next chapter of her life could begin.

Almost three years after Aceves' murder, the Purple Flower Domestic Violence Resource and Support Center opened its doors on Tuesday, Dec. 2, to help women in Carroll County.

"Barb and I have been carrying Laura with us for almost two years and carrying that flower was like carrying her into the courtroom," Maiella said. "Opening the Purple Flower was a way of honoring Laura's life and death."

Weems-Mourgila recounted the first time she heard about Aceves' story.

"Linda and I worked at the Cradle and Laura (Ponce) came in there. I remember the exact moment I read about Laura (Aceves) in the Huffington Post. I remember sitting there crying my eyes out asking God if there's something I can do. I felt like it was God saying 'do something; here's your chance.' "

So Maiella and Weems-Mourgila set out to make it easier for domestic violence survivors to get help in Carroll County.

"Part of the reason Laura lost her life was because there were no services offered to her," Maiella said. "Maybe they handed her a paper, but nobody took the time and that's why we are here; to be a presence in Carroll County."

Both Maiella and Weems-Mourgila said that they want to keep the conversation about domestic violence going to break the silence in Carroll County. The Purple Flower, which serves as a resource center for domestic violence survivors in the community, and the Carroll County Safety Network, which will roll out a toll-free number Dec. 20 for domestic violence survivors, work in tandem so women will have a place to turn.

"We are very visible in our storefront," Maiella said. "There is now a safety network and toll-free number and we can help you make a plan to get safe.

"We can offer transportation to get to a safe spot through the Safety Network," Maiella added. "Purple Flower is one part of the puzzle and the Safety Network is the other part. Purple Flower is our way of honoring Laura in her life and in her death. With God's grace we keep taking little steps."

According to domestic violence statistics, the holidays are the worst time of year outside of the Super Bowl for women in domestic violence situations, so the Dec. 20 launch date for the toll-free number is a welcome coincidence.

"The Safety Network number will be on the window of the Purple Flower so a woman can know she can get that number and find safety," Maiella said.

The center, which is located at 7 North Springfield St. in Berryville, will teach women how to make a safety plan and let them know they are not alone in their journey, among other things. Berryville Mayor McKinney is paying rent for the center on behalf of the city, Maiella said.

The center is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. This Friday, the center is holding classes to train volunteers to help with the safety network, as well as in other areas such as social media and administration.

Ponce said she is transformed by her daughter's tragedy and is working hard to turn the situation into a positive one for domestic abuse survivors.

"I'm my daughter's voice and I'll do anything to prevent another tragedy," Ponce said. "I'm a survivor so I'm here to help anyone who needs it. God bless you all."

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