Courthouse shooting in Wilmington also a snapshot of domestic violence

A day after a Newark mother was gunned down by her ex-father-in-law in the New Castle County courthouse lobby, a local domestic violence advocacy group is shedding some light on what’s her life may have been like as a victim.

According to neighbors, 39-year-old Christine Belford’s home featured high-end security including cameras on the exterior of the house to protect herself and three daughters from her ex-husband David Matusiewicz and his family.

“The fact that she had these kinds of surveillance cameras around her house, clearly indicates that she remained afraid of him and his family, and that’s unfortunately too often the case in domestic violence situations,” explained Carol Post, executive director of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Many similarities

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Post said that while Belford’s case features extreme circumstances, the situation features many behaviors of domestic violence.

“One of the things we sometimes see in domestic violence cases is kidnapping, kids being taken out of state or out of country as a form of abuse against the partner that is being abused,” explained Post. “We see lots of incidents of difficulties around custody and visitation and those struggles.”

In 2007, Matusiewicz kidnapped the three girls with his mother, bouncing them between four countries in South America over a 19-month period.

After police discovered him hiding out with the children in Nicaragua, he spent 48 months in prison before being released to a halfway house last year. However, Belford and Matusiewicz continued to work out the details of co-parenting their children which lead to Monday’s court hearing regarding child support.

Restraining order sought?

Neighbors believed that Belford either had or wanted to get a restraining order against Matusiewicz and perhaps his family members, but Post said there wasn’t much else that could have been done in that security lobby.

“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this work, and I used to work in family court years ago as an advocate, nothing like this has ever happened,” said Post. “I think that we can always improve protections but it’s very hard to predict people when they’re carrying a gun and wants to kill somebody.”

According to DCADV, nationally, approximately three women a day are killed by their current or former husbands, boyfriends or ex-partners and guns are the most common method by which women are killed by an intimate partner.

Post added that restraining orders are a valuable tool for domestic violence victims.

“There has been very good research that shows that Protection from Abuse Orders, or Civil Restraining Orders, are effective,” she said. “They do help the majority of victims keep the abuser away from them for some time while the order is in effect. So there’s lots of research that tells us that they are effective.”

A picture of Christine Belford, mother

Caitlin Reilly was an assistant teacher at Tutor Time pre-school when she first met Belford.

She would baby-sit her 3 girls. She described as a laid-back, but loving mom. One of the children, Leigh, had autism.

“She read all these books about autism. They were all around the house. She put Leigh in special programs that helped her becoming highly functioning,” said Reilly.  

Reilly said Laura was artistic. The oldest was approaching her teen years when she first met them. 

She said Belford never spoke about the kidnapping. On Belford’s website, she listed her occupation as being connected to the field of optometry.  Her ex-husband, David, was an optometrist.

Congress passes domestic-violence act

Ironically, Belford’s death comes one day after Vice President Joe Biden praised the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Violence Against Women Act.  The bill passed by a vote of 78-22.  

Both of Delaware’s senators, Tom Carper and Chris Coons, voted for the bill which would send money directly to health care providers. The bill now goes to the House.

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