A Marker for her Mother: A Survivor’s Journey
On October 1, 2007, several news shows in eastern North Carolina ran a story about a remarkable ceremony that was held in Fayetteville. It was a memorial for an army wife from Fort Bragg who was murdered by her husband.
The case itself was old news – 33 years old, from 1974. But only in 2007 was a marker to be placed on the victim’s grave, by her daughter.
The victim was Beryl Mitchell, killed by her Army Green Beret husband on December 1, 1974: stabbed, strangled, and dumped nude in a wooded area of Ft. Bragg. Mitchell was buried in the cemetery across from Fayetteville’s VA hospital, but without a marker. Her husband was convicted of murder and spent several years in an Army prison.
Their daughter, Christine Horne, was in elementary school then. She worked for decades to overcome the impact of that trauma. As part of her closure, Horne planned to return to Fayetteville to organize a memorial for her mother and install a grave marker; the fact that the ceremony took place at the beginning of what is called Domestic Violence Awareness Month was entirely not coincidental.
The memorial became an impressive public event; both the police chief and the Cumberland County sheriff were there –though the army did not respond to Horne’s invitation to send someone. The event climaxed in the release of thirty-three lavender balloons at the cemetery. A crowd of fifty-plus watched the balloons rise into the blue sky. Among them were many women, survivors of domestic violence, who showed up unannounced to be part of the witness.
I was Director at Quaker House in Fayetteville then; and Quaker House became a quiet part of this story. Domestic violence was not one of our program priorities at the time, though of course we heard about it in our GI counseling, and as part of the experience of the community. (The U.S. military has an ongoing epidemic of domestic violence, which it works diligently to downplay and keep quiet. Of course, much the same thing could be said of the rest of our society as well.)
Back in 2002, after a shocking series of seven military domestic murder-suicides here, I had written an article in our Quaker House newsletter about the aftermath of this outburst, and later posted it on our website.
Which is where Christine Horne read it in mid-September, 2007. Then she picked up the phone and called Quaker House, out of the blue. She told me she was seeking help with making the ceremony as visible as possible, particularly to help focus attention on this chronic social epidemic.
And we did help her, particularly with media work, while staying mainly in the background. The Fayetteville chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women), which meets at Quaker House, also helped out: they’re veteran activists on this issue.
This commemoration, while very personal, was not only about closure in Christine’s life. Violence against women is a continuing plague. Now Quaker House has a part-time domestic violence counselor who regularly works with survivors of domestic abuse.
And every year since 2007, on a Saturday in December, the Fayetteville NOW Chapter has gathered at Beryl Mitchell’s gravesite, with flowers and remembrance. After all, as we have learned in spades in 2016, the work is far from done.
I’ve been there most years, even since I moved to Durham; last December Christine Horne was with us again, and she looked, fabulous.