Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How Faribault is honoring Barb Larson with an outdoor art installation February 17, 2017

NEARLY TWO MONTHS have passed since Barb Larson was shot to death by her ex-husband at her work place, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. Dick Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself.

Today my community continues to heal, to create an awareness of domestic violence and to celebrate the life of this vivacious and vibrant woman. I feel a real sense of unity, a deepening compassion and a connectedness that I’ve not experienced before in Faribault.

And now that care is extending to a public art project that honors Barb’s life. The Chamber is seeking proposals from area artists for an outdoor sculptural installation on the very building where Barb was killed.

 

The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson.

The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson and are meant to inspire artists in proposing a public sculpture in her honor.

The concept the Chamber hopes to convey is depicted in descriptive words submitted by those who knew Barb. Words like friendly, welcoming, vivacious, energetic, caring, kind… I never knew Barb. But based on the words filling a word cloud on the request for proposals, I understand why she was much beloved. I think all of us would like to be remembered with such positive adjectives.

Artists’ proposals are being accepted through March 24. Click here for more information. What a great opportunity to propose artwork that represents all the positive qualities Barb embodied.

We are a community that continues to heal. And we are a community determined to focus on the spirit of goodness and light in the darkness of tragedy.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

2016 Femicide Report: The stories, the stats, the call for action in Minnesota January 31, 2017

The 2016 Femicide Report and

The 2016 Femicide Report and a guide from the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial, both projects of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

FORTY-FOUR PAGES.

This information about Barb Larson's murder was displayed with a personalized t-shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by and courtesty of Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Cooridnator.

This information about Barb Larson was displayed with a personalized shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator.

Names of 21 known domestic violence homicide victims, including that of Barbara Larson from my community, are printed within those pages. She was shot to death on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

An index lists section titles like Homicide Statistics, Red Flags for Batterer Lethality, Findings & Recommendations, Our Charge to Minnesota Communities, Victim Stories

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul takes the podium. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell speaks. Schnell received a 2016 MCBW Inspire Award “as a community ally for improving law enforcement responses to victims of domestic and sexual violence.” Photo by Erica Staab.

This comprises the 2016 Femicide Report released Tuesday morning by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. It is a document packed with statistics, facts, names, stories, educational information and recommendations all related to domestic violence homicides in Minnesota in 2016.

I challenge each of you to read this document by clicking here. It matters not whether you live in Minnesota, half-way across the country or on the other side of the world. If you read this report, you will better understand domestic violence, how it affects all of us and how you can make a difference.

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of all 21 individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of 21 known individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson is pictured on the left, second photo from the top.

Be forewarned that the victim stories, especially, are difficult to read. But those are necessary to put a face to this violence, to provide clarity, to effect change. This needs to be a collective effort.

HOPE Center staffers and Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson in honoring her memory. The family is holding the personalized t-shirt designed in Barb's memory for The Clothesline Project.

HOPE Center staffers Erica, left, Olivia, Sandra and Nikki, right, along with Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson’s family in honoring Barb during the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial. The family holds the personalized shirt created in Barb’s memory for The Clothesline Project. Photo courtesy of Erica Staab.

I am especially grateful for places like HOPE Center, offering support to victims/survivors of violence (and those who love them) in Faribault and throughout Rice County. HOPE staffers participated in the MCBW’s Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday in St. Paul as did a captain from the Faribault Police Department.

This The Clothesline Project t-shirt honors Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

A closer look at The Clothesline Project shirt honoring Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

Rather than attempt to summarize more of the 2016 Femicide Report, I leave you with this strong statement published in the Foreword:

Victims deserve to be believed, to be heard, and to be safe in their homes and in public. We still need to invest in resources, effective interventions, and in accountability measures that are victim centered, including prevention efforts. We can also work to end these homicides by being a resource ourselves for victims; as their family members, friends, faith leaders, employers, teachers, and neighbors. Services provide necessary tools and support, but it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

Allow me to highlight what I perceive to be particularly important words in that paragraph: believe, accountability, victim centered and prevention.

And finally: …it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

TELL ME: How is your community tackling domestic violence? What are you doing to make a difference?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering those who died of domestic violence homicide in Minnesota January 30, 2017

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

TO THOSE WHO KNEW Barb Larson, she was classy, sassy, upbeat and kind, always smiling.

Tomorrow she will be among those remembered at the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial at the St. Paul College Club in St. Paul. Barb was murdered on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at The Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office where she worked. Richard Larson then turned the gun on himself.

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Barb’s name, and that of Minnesota’s 20 other 2016 victims of domestic violence homicide, will be read during the 4 p.m. memorial program. The January 31 memorial also includes The Clothesline Project, a display of personalized t-shirts honoring victims. That visual makes a strong impact. I know. I viewed a previous The Clothesline Project at a July 2015 event in Owatonna.

A graphic from the MCBW Facebook page promoting release of the 2016 Femicide Report.

A photo of the graphic published on the MCBW Facebook page promoting release of the 2016 Femicide Report.

Prior to the Tuesday afternoon memorial, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women releases its 2016 Femicide Report, a compilation of information on intimate partner homicides in Minnesota. Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center in Faribault, is serving as the MCBW member program rep during that morning release to the media. She will also attend the afternoon memorial along with Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator Sandra Seelhammer and, I expect, others from the Faribault community. Family and friends of all 21 victims were specifically invited to the public event.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display this summer in Owatonna. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna this past summer.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display in July 2015. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

I wish events like this were not needed, that domestic violence did not exist. But it does. And it affects all of us, directly or indirectly. My community understands that all too well with the death of Barb Larson in December and the murder of Faribault native Margie Brown Holland and her unborn baby, Olivia, in March 2013.

Clothesline Project, in her honor

Words on a t-shirt at a The Clothesline Project display in Owatonna in July 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

We all need to care—enough to educate ourselves so that we understand domestic violence. We need to stop blaming victims. We need to support victims/survivors and those who love them. We need a system that holds offenders accountable. We need to take a stand against domestic violence. We need to speak up, to end the silence.

A comment on the MCBW Facebook page from the daughter of a

A photo of a comment on the MCBW Facebook page honors Barbara Ann Wilson, murdered in April 2016 in Mankato.

FYI: The Tuesday, January 31, Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial runs from 3:30 – 5 p.m. at the St. Paul College Club, 990 Summit Avenue, St. Paul.

Please check back for information on the 2016 Femicide Report, which I will review upon its release.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering Senicha & her unborn baby January 26, 2017

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Senicha Lessman. Photo credit: Eagan Police Department

Senicha Lessman. Photo credit: Eagan Police Department

HER BROWN EYES HOLD a certain soulfulness. I can see that in Senicha Lessman’s photo released by the Eagan Police Department. She died Tuesday afternoon of homicidal trauma to her face and neck. As did her unborn baby; Senicha was 32 weeks pregnant.

Two lives lost. Senicha, 25, will never see her son, due March 19. Her son will never see his mother. Their senseless and violent deaths are sad and tragic and maddening.

Family and friends and co-workers grieve the loss of this young woman, this mother-to-be. She was excited about becoming a mom, was registered online for baby gifts. A swing. Diapers. Bottles. Burp cloths. She held hopes and dreams. No more. This baby who would become a boy who would become a teen who would become a man lost his future in an act of violence.

Police arrested a 23-year-old man as a person of interest in the murders. He was in a relationship with Senicha. If he proves to be the perpetrator, then this makes Senicha and her baby victims of domestic violence.

When will it end? When? There is never an excuse for violence against women. Fatal or otherwise.

 

UPDATE: Thursday, January 26, 3:36 PM

Vern Mouelle, 23, of Brooklyn Park has been charged with one count of second degree murder (with intent) and with one count of murder of an unborn child in the second degree (with intent) in the deaths of Senicha and her baby. He has been identified as the father of the unborn baby boy by Senicha’s mother. Click here to read the news release from the Dakota County Attorney, including details of the investigation and the criminal complaint.

 

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. If not, but you are in a physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially or technologically abusive relationship, please seek support from a local women’s shelter and/or advocacy group, a trusted friend or family member, someone. You are not alone. You deserve to live free of abuse. You are so worth it.

NOTE: These double murders remind me of the deaths nearly four years ago of Faribault native Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia. Margie’s husband was convicted of first-degree murder for both deaths. That hit close to home. Margie’s father once lived across the street from me.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shining the light of hope in Faribault following Barb Larson’s murder January 7, 2017

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

MORE THAN TWO WEEKS have passed since the murder of Barb Larson, shot to death by her ex-husband at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office where she worked. Richard Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself.

This act of domestic violence has rocked my community. We are grieving, asking why, wondering how we can heal and effect change. I wonder myself.

But already positive things are happening. Earlier this week, the Chamber remembered Barb on what would have been her 60th birthday by celebrating Happy Barb Day. Community members were encouraged to share memories of Barb online and at a Business Before Hours event.

When the Chamber office reopened a day prior, Chamber members and others gathered there to show their support for staff. Professionals are also offering in-kind services to update the Chamber lobby. I can only imagine the mental challenge of walking into that building every day with the knowledge that your friend and co-worker was murdered in your workplace.

Faribault’s faith community is also reaching out with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church taking the lead by focusing on shining light in the physical darkness of winter and in the emotional darkness of grief. At the 9:30 a.m. worship service this Sunday, battery-operated candles will be offered to attendees. The idea is to place those candles in the windows of Faribault homes as a strong visual symbol that we can be a light for each other.

That theme of being here for one another threads through a mass mailing letter I received from HOPE Center, a local organization with a mission “to create zero tolerance for sexual and domestic violence through Healing, Outreach, Prevention and Education.” Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher writes of the personal grief in losing her friend Barb. But she also writes with a renewed determination:

We must change things, and we can start here in our community. I do not want to write yet another letter sharing news like this (about Barb’s murder). We as a community must stand together and say NO More.

Powerful words.

We have the power to make a difference—to care for one another, to show others that they are not alone, to listen, to shine the light of hope.

My community is talking, creating awareness, taking action. Domestic violence/abuse is a hard issue to face. It would be easy just to look the other way, to plunge our heads into the sand of “this isn’t my problem” and then go on with our lives. But we can’t. We mustn’t.

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I got at a recent family reunion.

The HOPE stone that sits on my office desk was painted by my great niece Kiera. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TELL ME: Please share with me any specific ways you, your community, your church or organization has worked toward healing, outreach, prevention and education in the area of domestic abuse/violence. Perhaps something you’ve done would help us here in Faribault.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: A community poised to learn from tragedy December 28, 2016

Barbara Larson is Minnesota’s 17th known victim of domestic violence homicide in 2016. We will raise the Live Free Without Violence flag in her honor on Tuesday. We send our condolences to the community of Faribault.Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women

 

The obituaries of Barbara Larson and Richard Larson, published in Tuesday's Faribault Daily News.

The obituaries of Barbara Larson and Richard Larson, published in Tuesday’s Faribault Daily News.

YESTERDAY THE MCBW raised that “free without violence” flag honoring Barbara Larson, who was shot to death last Friday by her ex-husband at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office where she worked. Richard Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself. Several days prior, Barbara Larson was granted a harassment restraining order against her ex-husband.

This afternoon, my community celebrates Barb’s life at her funeral. We are a community grieving, even if we didn’t personally know either Barb or Dick. I didn’t. We are a community in shock over this latest tragedy, the second murder-suicide here in December. We are a community rocked by the violence and four lives lost.

Kim has made it her mission to speak out against domestic violence. She is the voice of her sister Kay, pictured here.

This photo graphic comes from the website of Kim Sisto-Robinson, a Duluth woman who has made it her mission to be the voice of her deceased sister, Kay (shown in this photo), by speaking out on domestic violence. Kay was shot to death by her estranged husband in May 2010. Kim writes at myinnerchick.com with a deeply personal and powerful voice.

And we are a community on the cusp of an opportunity to learn, to make a difference. No one wants education to come at such great cost. But we must find a way to deal with this, heal and create change. Women need to be protected via a system that does not fail them. Mental health services need to be more available in our area. It’s not acceptable that such a shortage of mental health workers exists here that individuals must wait weeks to see a provider. Or choose the ER. Or nothing. Or something unacceptable.

We as individuals need to begin to understand and openly acknowledge issues that are all too often avoided. We need open dialogue—an opportunity to vent, share ideas and formulate solutions.

Already, community leaders, led by members of the Larson family, are discussing a campaign to raise awareness on the issues of domestic violence and mental health, according to an article published yesterday in The Faribault Daily News.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display this summer in Owatonna. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna this past summer.

Faribault native Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored in The Clothesline Project in Owatonna in July 2015. Margie was murdered by her husband in March 2013. Margie’s dad once lived across the street from me.

I am beyond pleased. Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I have written often about domestic violence and abuse. It’s an important topic to me because many friends and family have been affected both directly and indirectly by both.

Nothing is ever black-and-white simple. Already, anger and frustration have been expressed in comments published online on the Daily News website. That’s OK. People are talking. We all need also to make a conscious effort to listen, to educate ourselves and then do what we can to make a difference. We each have a voice. We need to stop looking the other way, pretending domestic violence and mental health issues don’t exist. They do. No matter your social, economic, educational or professional status.

Just last week four squad cars and an ambulance parked near my home early one morning while law enforcement dealt with a suicide threat in my neighborhood.

On this day, in my community, we remember Barb Larson, described as sassy and classy, upbeat and smiling—simply all-around positive.

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women, photographed in July 2015 in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It is my hope that, through Barb’s death, we as a community can come together and learn. This needs to be a concerted effort that involves all of us. I’d like to see The Clothesline Project return to Faribault. It’s a powerful visual to remember those who were murdered as a result of domestic violence or child abuse. I’d like to see increased education in the schools. I’d like to hear the stories of survivors. Who better to make a personal impact.

 

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I got at a recent family reunion.

My HOPE stone, painted by a great niece. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We already have a great resource with HOPE Center, which offers healing, outreach, prevention and education related to domestic violence. (Call the 24-hour safe-line at 800-607-2330.) That includes Rice County Blueprint for Safety, a collaborative inter-agency victim-centered response to domestic violence-related crimes.

 

South Central Mobile Crisis Team Info

 

We also have the South Central Mobile Crisis Team which responds on-site to help individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. I was unaware of this until the recently-published newspaper articles. I’d suggest increasing awareness via clinics, churches, schools…

Now we, individually, need also to reflect and ask, “What can I do?”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Two found dead at Faribault Chamber December 23, 2016

UPDATE, 6:55 p.m. Friday: Faribault police have identified the two individuals found shot to death as Richard “Dick” Larson, 61, and his ex-wife, Barbara Larson, 59. Richard Larson apparently shot Barbara and then himself. Richard Larson was a retired Faribault police officer. I remember him. A harassment restraining order was served on him earlier this week.

Their identity does not surprise me as I quickly connected the dots.

About a week ago, Barb Larson was interviewed by local KDHL radio station personality Gordy Kosfeld about Chamber activities. You can view that interview by clicking here.

I am deeply saddened by this act of domestic violence. A restraining order is no guarantee of protection. Something has to change.

WE ARE A COMMUNITY SHAKEN.

This afternoon, a man and a woman were found dead behind a desk at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office in an apparent murder-suicide, according to police.

I am still trying to comprehend this violent tragedy, the second such in just 12 days. On December 11, a 33-year-old man and an 8-year-old girl died of gunshot wounds in a murder-suicide in a residential neighborhood of Faribault.

At this point, just hours after the bodies were found, information is limited to early media reports and a news release from the Faribault Police Department. That release states officers found a firearm at the scene and that the public is not at risk.

Additionally, the release states that “No other Chamber employees were present or injured.” That leads me to conclude that at least one of the deceased is a Chamber employee.  With a population of around 23,000, Faribault is a small enough city that our Chamber/tourism people are highly-visible and well-known.

I listened to a police audio on mnpoliceclips.com, which suggests the possible identities of the deceased.

I am sad, just incredibly sad. I have no other words than to advise all of you to hold close those you love.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling