Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hope, help & tragedy in Faribault July 22, 2021

I photographed this woman’s shirt at a public event in Northfield. The message refers to struggles with mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IF YOU’VE FOLLOWED my writing long enough, you understand my dedication to increasing awareness on two important issues—domestic violence and mental health.

This week, both made headlines in my community. I can’t let this opportunity slide without sharing what’s happened/is happening in Faribault. We need to stay informed, to choose awareness over sticking our heads in the sand. Understanding leads to action and, perhaps, saving lives.

First the really good news for Faribault and the surrounding region (according to the Faribault Daily News): Our local hospital, District One, and Rice County Social Services are collaborating on new adult outpatient mental health services. The hospital, part of Allina Health, will offer a day treatment program and a partial hospitalization program for adults dealing with mental illnesses. Social services will provide referrals.

Photographed at the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

To say I am thrilled is an understatement. This is so needed in Rice County and the surrounding rural areas. Our access to mental health care, especially during or following a crisis, is limited. Waiting time to see a psychiatrist, if that doctor is even accepting new patients, can be up to six weeks. Can you imagine waiting six weeks if you were experiencing a heart attack? You would likely die. Individuals facing mental health issues—from depression to anxiety to bipolar to schizophrenia and more—deserve, and need, immediate access to local care. As do their families.

To get treatment and support locally, rather than traveling to the Twin Cities metro, will ease some of the stress during an already stressful situation. Even with this improvement in services, though, we really need more mental health professionals to alleviate the shortage and meet the area’s needs.

Stress, while a bit of a buzzword, is part of life. And this week my community feels especially stressed by a murder-suicide, which left a 32-year-old woman dead, allegedly shot by her 27-year-old boyfriend, who then killed himself. It’s devastating. Two young people dead in an apparent act of domestic violence.

A mosaic on the exterior of the Faribault Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office honors employee Barb Larson, murdered there on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My heart breaks every time I read of such murder-suicides, or any act of domestic violence. Shortly before Christmas 2016, Barb Larson was shot and killed by her ex-husband, who then took his own life, in a high profile case in Faribault. She worked for the local tourism office. He was a retired police officer. That crime shook Faribault to its core.

Likewise, I expect the murder of Amanda Schroeder on Monday evening is prompting similar angst. And increasing awareness of the ongoing crime of domestic violence. HOPE Center, which advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence, is already reminding the community that advocates are available to listen, help and support. 24/7.

In both of these situations—domestic abuse/violence and mental health crises—people are here to help. I feel thankful to live in a community that cares. No one ever needs to feel alone, to face life’s challenges and stresses solo.

Warning signs of domestic abuse/violence from a previous community event on the topic. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I know Amanda tried. She called 911. To make that call took strength and courage. Still, she died. If Amanda’s death can save one life, can result in one person safely leaving an abusive partner, then something positive has come from this tragedy.

Where does all of this leave us as individuals? I encourage you to educate yourself on domestic abuse/violence and mental illness. Then take that knowledge and show your care and compassion to those who need it. To those experiencing challenges. And their families. Listen. Support. Encourage. Refer to professionals. Be that person who chooses not to ignore, but rather to be there. To engage. To understand. To uplift. To care.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering Barb Larson one year after her murder via an act of domestic violence December 21, 2017

Barb Larson, an employee of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, was murdered on December 23, 2016, at her workplace. A memorial mosaic on the building exterior honors her.

 

ON DECEMBER 23, 2016, Barb Larson was murdered inside the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. She was shot by her ex-husband, a former cop, who then turned his gun on himself.

 

This plaque fronts the artwork.

 

The murder of Barb Larson and the suicide of her killer, Richard Larson, just days before Christmas 2016 stunned my community. Both were well-known in Faribault. For Barb to die in an act of domestic violence in the workplace—in a place promoting our community—seemed unfathomable.

 

Caron Bell’s mosaic is titled “Love Remains” and was designed with input from Barb’s family and friends.

 

But it happened. Just like domestic abuse and violence still occur daily in my city. And in yours, too. Most often the violence does not result in death. Sometimes, tragically, it does.

 

I see grief, a swirling of emotions, in the grey tile.

 

A year out from Barb’s murder, I wonder if anything in my community has really changed. Reports of domestic-related calls continue to fill police reports published in the local newspaper. Domestic violence stories still cover too many column inches.

 

Even after Barb’s death, beauty and hope still bloom.

 

Are we more aware, educated, alert now than we were before Barb’s high profile death? And if we are, what are we doing to make a difference in the lives of those affected by domestic abuse and violence? I’m talking individuals here, not those who already serve victims/survivors/families through advocacy programs like those at HOPE Center and through Ruth’s House, a local shelter for women and their families.

 

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile.

 

Initially, some positive action followed—a Faribault church gave away battery-operated candles to shine the light of hope; the Chamber celebrated Happy Barb Day on what would have been Barb’s 60th birthday; public art exhibits honored Barb and spotlighted the darkness of her death and hope rising; a statewide It Happens Here awareness campaign highlighted the issue of domestic violence; and HOPE Center staffers attended a Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial event honoring Barb and other victims.

 

 

In addition to the art commission, the Chamber interior was refurbished by volunteers after Barb’s murder there. Inside the office, a word collage also honors Barb as does a fiber art piece by long-time friend and Northfield artist Judy Sayes-Willis.

 

As a Chamber employee, Barb was especially welcoming.

 

Additionally, the Chamber commissioned an art piece by Minneapolis artist Caron Bell. Titled “Love Remains,” the mosaic on the exterior of the Chamber office honors Barb through a peaceful landscape scene and six words describing her: friendly, passionate, hopeful, beautiful, strong and welcoming.

 

“Love Remains” needs to be viewed up close to see all the words celebrating Barb.

 

 

 

I didn’t know Barb personally. But I especially appreciate the words hopeful and strong. Strong and hopeful.

 

 

I’m thankful for these multiple efforts focusing public attention on the issues of domestic abuse and violence. I hope these efforts continue. Our awareness and concern must remain even when headlines vanish into the next day’s news.

 

 

In the year since Barb’s death, 21* known individuals have died in Minnesota due to domestic violence. That’s too many in 2017, or ever. We need to remember these victims and their families and friends. And we need to care about those who remain in abusive relationships. Whether sisters by blood, sisters by community connection, sisters by workplace, sisters by church or neighborhood or friendship, we must pledge to believe them, support them, help them. Stop blaming them.

We need also to question why men continue to abuse women. Beyond that, how can we prevent such abuse and change the negative ways in which some men and boys view women and girls?

We need to break the silence. We need to do something. And that starts with each of us.

 

Please click on the highlighted links within this post (especially in the final paragraphs) to view enlightening and informative stories and videos on the topics of domestic abuse and violence. These are important and worth your time. 

 

 

 

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Confide in someone you trust such as a family member, friend, co-worker, pastor, women’s advocate… You are not alone. There is hope and help. You deserve to be free of any type of abuse whether verbal, emotional, psychological, mental, financial, spiritual, technological and/or physical. Believe in yourself and in your strength.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The time period in which you try to leave (or after you’ve left) your abuser is the most dangerous time for you. Have a safety plan in place. In Barb’s case, a harassment restraining order had been served on her ex-husband the week he murdered her. Don’t rely on a piece of paper or “the system” to protect you.

If you know someone in an abusive relationship, offer your support, love and care. Educate yourself. Seek professional advice so you best know how to help a victim. That’s vital.

 

* This number may actually be higher, but is the most recent figure published on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

NOTE: Since most victims of domestic abuse and violence are women, I choose to use that gender when I write on this topic. I am aware that men can also be victims.

© Copyright 2017 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

 

An unspeakable tragedy in Faribault December 14, 2016

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used here for illustration purposes only.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used here for illustration purposes only and not photographed in the area of the current tragedy.

SOMETIMES INCOMPREHENSIBLE TRAGEDIES happen in life that defy understanding. Something so horrible that we can’t wrap our minds around reality. We wonder and weep and wish we would wake up and our world would be unchanged. The darkness gone, replaced by light.

In my community of Faribault, we are wondering this week. Wondering why an eight-year-old girl is dead, apparently shot by the man who was her legal guardian. Local police are calling the deaths of Lynnaya Stoddard-Espinoza and Ryan Perrizo, 33, an apparent murder-suicide. Their bodies were found Sunday afternoon inside their Faribault home. Both suffered gunshot wounds; a handgun was recovered next to Perrizo.

The deaths leave many unanswered questions. Mostly, why? Why did this happen?

Nearly three years ago, on January 31, 2014, Perrizo’s 39-year-old wife, Jodi, died following a sudden illness while vacationing in Florida, according to her obituary. And now these deaths. I can speculate. The police can speculate. The general public can speculate. But until the investigation is complete, we don’t have answers.

We have this fact: Two individuals are dead.

And we have a community affected by this unspeakable tragedy. I think mostly of the surviving families and then of little Lynnaya’s classmates at Faribault Lutheran School, the same school my three children attended. How do you explain Lynnaya’s violent death? How do you reassure and comfort and help these children cope? Can these kids even grasp what has happened? With an enrollment of around 100, Faribault Lutheran is a like a family. Lynnaya’s absence is real and children and adults—teachers, parents, grandparents—are hurting.

How do we as adults explain something we can’t even explain?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling