Anyone in an abusive relationship who needs help can call or text Safe Haven Ministries anytime at 616.452.6664.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Kent County is on track this year to double the number of domestic violence homicides from the year before.

So far, there have been at least five domestic violence homicides in the county, with eight lives being lost.

Marissa Valdez, 24, was one of the lives cut short last year. In September of 2021, Valdez was shot and killed by her boyfriend. He is now spending decades in prison.

Valdez was four months pregnant.

For Marissa Valdez’s older brother, Jaymi Russell-Valdez, her loss has left a void he cannot fill.

“It’s the feeling of a missing piece inside of you,” he said. “It’s like a part of you is no longer there, that you’re constantly trying to find something to fill it. It’s a constant reminder of just how quickly a life could be there and then gone the next.”

Monday night, Jaymi Russell-Valdez and his family took a stand against domestic violence. They honored Marissa Valdez and the more than 50 lives lost to domestic violence across Michigan over the last year.

The vigil at the Blue Bridge in Grand Rapids was organized by the Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team. Bells rang as the name of each victim was read.

Co-organizer Tara Aday said domestic violence thrives in silence, which makes it so important to shine a light on the issue devastating families.

“This vigil keeps me grounded in the ‘why’ of this work,” Aday said. “It’s not just reading the names. It’s looking up and seeing the family of those that are very much still grieving and in pain. I think it centers us as a community that these are more than just names on the bridge.”

Aday said this year has been “especially devastating” for fatal and near-fatal domestic violence cases. 

“To make change here in our community, we have to be willing to come together and explore how we can do things differently,” Aday said.

A sign is hung up on the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

One potential change is on the horizon: creating a “domestic violence court” with dedicated attention to these cases.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker wants county commissioners to make it possible by approving money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“It’s about trying to have a heightened probation, heightened services to the victim, probation for the defendant,” Becker said. “Trying to be much more like a treatment court where you really get into working with the defendant to try to cure the behavior if you can. Also, providing the support to the victim.”

In addition to providing resources for domestic violence victims, Becker said the idea is also about “keeping an eye on abusers” and making sure they “do what they’re supposed to.”

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker speaks at a vigil for domestic violence victims on the Blue Bridge in downtown Grand Rapids. (Oct. 3, 2022)

Becker said DVCCRT has been working on the idea for four years now, but securing funding has been an issue. At the vigil, the prosecutor urged people to reach out to county commissioners about the idea.

The county commission’s next meeting is Oct. 14. Becker said he hopes there will be a final vote in November on the idea.

As a devastating year for domestic violence continues, this week the Blue Bridge will be lit with purple lights and filled with the names of those lost.

The Blue Bridge is lit by purple lights in honor of domestic violence victims during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (Oct. 3, 2022)

As he continues to mourn the loss of his sister, Jaymi Russell-Valdez said people should know they are never alone.

“Speak out,” he said. “Don’t hold back. Don’t be secluded and feel like you’re alone. Because I can promise you, you’re not. Your family and your friends are there for you. You have to take that step to speak. Don’t be afraid.”

He also said that domestic violence cases are “usually behind closed doors.” That’s why he said it’s incredibly important to check in with your loved ones.

“Make sure that they’re OK,” he said. “Because a lot of the times we fight personal battles that we just don’t express to other people.”