PUEBLO — Colorado's Stay at Home order is entering its second week, and while some people may be itching to get outside of the house, others might see it as their only escape from an abusive home. Already this year, Pueblo has seen four domestic violence related deaths. One victim's loved ones are doing their part to try and let others know there are still resources operating throughout this pandemic that can help.
Nicole Stephenson is always on Gabrielle Skubal's mind. "I think about it all night. I think about it in the morning... it's just hard to even accept that she's gone sometimes," said Skubal.
Skubal said she was lifelong friends with Stephenson, 33, who died in February after an assault. Police said it was a domestic violence homicide, and 36-year-old Nathan Turner has been charged with second-degree murder. "Honestly, I tried really hard to help Nicole. I did, a lot. But, I still felt like if I would have known some more resources, maybe I could have helped her better," said Skubal.
Resources like the YWCA of Pueblo, which said preventing the spread of COVID-19 has impacted their operations, but they are still there for anyone who needs them. Right now, they have limited their capacity from 28 beds, to around 16, but Domestic Violence Program Director Ryan Yanke said he will get creative to try and fit more people into the shelter. Yanke even said they have a room they could quarantine if someone started exhibiting symptoms. He said they are averaging around ten to twelve people at the shelter a day.
Yanke said people who were already in rough situations are now more vulnerable at this time. He said the virus will "increase tensions, and increase domestic violence. So, I'm concerned for our community and families... People are going to rely more and more on maladaptive coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol. When we're afraid, we go into survival mode, and often times we don't make the best choices when we're in survival mode."
Yanke also said they will try and work with hotels to expand their hotel voucher system, to make sure that anyone who needs a safe place to stay gets it.
Meanwhile, those with the Pueblo Police Department said because of the virus, there are some crimes they are not making arrests in, like minor warrants. But domestic violence cases will still lead to an arrest. "This is one of the few crimes where if somebody says 'I don't want to press charges,' we still proceed with the case... Following that initial arrest, there's a mandatory restraining order. It's a temporary restraining order, but it's until the resolution of that case," said Sgt. Franklyn Ortega of the Pueblo Police Department.
Skubal said she wants to help those she still can, which is one of the reasons she created Nicole's Army on Facebook, a group with over 3,000 people in it where the goal is to defeat domestic violence. "Building up the courage to just tell somebody you trust," said Skubal.
If you would like to join Nicole's Army, search #nicolesarmy on Facebook. It is a private group.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please reach out to local resources for help.