A large crowd filled with healers, supporters and survivors gathered downtown Thursday evening and marched to Santa Maria High School in honor of domestic abuse victims.
In Santa Maria, alone, three women died as a result of alleged domestic violence that ended in homicide: Ranae Ronquillo, who was allegedly killed by boyfriend William Delgado in Lompoc in January; Elyse Erwin who was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend Jorge Fernandez Tovar in April; and Natalia Morozova, who was murdered by her ex-husband Konstantin Morozov.
According to data reports compiled by Domestic Violence Solutions for Santa Barbara County, in 2016 the organization answered more than 4,981 calls to their 24-hour crisis hotlines, and provided 4,687 nights of shelter to domestic violence victims.
Betina Monterosa, a five-year staff member at Domestic Violence Solutions, said the annual memorial walk and vigil commemorates survivors and "victims that lost their lives at the hands of their loved ones."
"We want to send the message loud and clear that we have to end this cycle of violence," she said. "Everyone here either knows someone who was a victim, or was a survivor themselves."
It's not just females who are victims of domestic violence, either, Monterosa emphasized.
"Domestic violence doesn't discriminate," she continued. "It can be any gender, race, it doesn't matter. It's just the matter of knowing these red flags, and to understand that you can get help."
The memorial walk route went down Cook Street and Broadway before finally making its way to Santa Maria High's Ethel Pope Auditorium, where the vigil was held, during which several speakers shared their stories of what it meant to be a survivor, and to also be a witness to speak up for victims.
Santa Barbara County's Deputy District Attorney Anne Nudson, who prosecuted a plethora of domestic violence cases from misdemeanor domestic assaults to felony domestic violence homicides, shared her story of what it meant to not just fight for the victim but, also, to be an older sister to a sibling in an abusive, controlling relationship.
Nudson spoke of the three women the community lost due to alleged domestic violence -- Morozova, Erwin and Ronquillo -- and reminded the crowd that "these (alleged) homicides all had something in common -- the victims were beloved mothers, daughters and friends."
"They also had something else in common," Nudson said. "People knew of the abuses they were suffering. Sometimes people knew, they reached out and spoke up, and sometimes they didn't."
As people become too engrossed in their own lives, they communicate with each other less and less, she said.
"When we hear a slap of a thud, we think, that's not our business. We may see a grocery checker with a bruise or a black eye, but that's not our business," Nudson said. "We may hear a co-worker cry at their desk and think they just want to be left alone."
"But what I want to challenge you guys to do is to reach out, speak to our neighbors, members in our community; to not be so buried in our own lives that we don't pay attention to those in need."
Nudson continued, "If everyone in this room made a difference in one domestic violence relationship, that will have a huge impact on our community."
Domestic violence survivors Maria Ayala and Kenneth Cumbie shared their personal stories of being in violent and controlling relationships. Both married and had children young, and both made excuses as to why their partners would exude abusive habits.
Both Cumbie and Ayala had partners who turned violent, abusive and controlling when they drank. Cumbie shared that in the culture he was raised in, he had to be "the man" of the house, and he wasn't allowed to show any emotions. His partner became abusive. He knew he needed help but refused any.
During one of several episodes, Cumbie's wife turned physically violent. He called the cops, but it was he who ended up in handcuffs. It was he who had charges filed against him.
"My daughter and I lived in a shelter because I was afraid for our lives," he said. "But I was able to speak up and get the help that I needed. I kept hopeful, even though I felt like the system was against me."
Cumbie added, "We have to reach out and accept the help we need. Seek the help you need, and let's end this vicious cycle of violence together."
Ayala shared that her husband began controlling what she wore. Many times, she had to take herself and her daughter to a shelter.
"I felt safe for a minute," she said. "But I wasn't ready to leave him and my counselor knew. He told me that I was the only one with the power to change my life."
Ayala decided to go back to school, get her driver's license, and scored a job to begin supporting herself and her daughter. All the while, her husband tried to make her feel guilty for going after her dreams. She finally had enough.
"You may feel like there are no other options, or that your partner will change of that there's no door to escape," Ayala said. "But I'm telling you, there's a key for every door. I'm not a victim anymore, and it's time to speak up."