Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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Thoughts on domestic violence six months after a high profile murder in my community June 28, 2017

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SIX MONTHS AGO a former Faribault police officer walked into the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office and murdered his ex-wife, then turned the gun on himself. It was a crime that left my community reeling just days before Christmas.

On Tuesday, The Faribault Daily News published a column by Chamber and Tourism President Kymn Anderson reflecting on life since the death of her friend and 12-year employee Barb Larson. Click here to read that piece on the Chamber website. In summary, Anderson writes about the grief she and her staff experienced, the support they received and ways in which Barb is being honored and remembered. All are important topics to cover when dealing with a violent crime that had such a profound affect on a community.

 

A photo of recent police reports published in the local paper. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This high profile case has created in Faribault a heightened awareness of domestic violence. Yet, is it a sustaining awareness? Six months from now, a year from now, five years from now will we have forgotten? Will we view this as an isolated incident or will we continue to wonder why, week after week, local law enforcement are called to respond to reports of domestic assault? What are we doing to reduce those numbers, to personally help those women who continue to be victimized?

I struggle with those tag words of domestic assault, as if domestic relegates the crime to something less important, for example, than a bar fight or a street fight. To me, domestic diminishes the crime and subconsciously lays some of the blame on the victim. As a wordsmith, I pay attention to language usage. And so does Jackson Katz, an educator who spoke on “The Language of Gender Violence” at Middlebury College, a private liberal arts college in Vermont. He claims that the way we talk and write about gender violence places blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Click here to read the story; it’s worth your time. And then consider how we as a society label these crimes against (mostly) women.

 

A snippet of the My inner chick homepage. Don’t let the “B” word scare you from reading this powerful blog.

 

I am passionate about educating others on the crime of domestic violence. So is Minnesotan Kim Sisto Robinson of Duluth. On May 26, 2010, Kim’s brother-in-law shot and killed Kim’s sister, Kay, and then killed himself. A month after Kay’s murder, Kim started blogging. She writes with depth, grief, honesty, passion and fire—her words flaming from her heart and soul. Kim holds nothing back. Not her grief. Not her anger. Not her desire to help others. Not her anything. If you want a personal glimpse into how domestic violence/murder has affected one woman, then read My inner chick. In her grief, Kim rises to inspire and bring hope. She has committed to raising her voice against domestic violence. In Kay’s honor.

 

The homepage for Ruth’s House website.

 

How about you? Have you educated yourself and loved ones on domestic abuse and violence? Do you notice red flags in relationships and trust your gut? Do you speak up or remain silent? In early June a Minnesota State Representative intervened when he observed a man beating a woman in downtown St. Paul. I’m not suggesting that you should do the same as it may not always be safe. But, at least call the police. I’ve done so myself, when I watched a guy shoving a woman along my street. I also called out a teen who was getting verbally abusive with his female companion. I refuse to remain silent.

I am grateful to the many organizations, like my local HOPE Center and Ruth’s House, that help women in need and their families. I love that word hope. It is such a positive, and powerful, word.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
(h/t to HOPE Center for the Jackson Katz article)

NOTE: I realize that men are also the victims of domestic abuse. But because the majority are women, I reference women when writing on this topic.

 

From Minneapolis neighborhood to prison, one inmate’s life story June 13, 2017

 

NOT ALL THAT FAR from my home, across the historic viaduct spanning the Straight River, past the hospital and down the road a bit, razor wire tops fences surrounding the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Faribault.

Among the men incarcerated there is Zeke Caligiuri, prisoner and author.

I recently read his book, This Is Where I Am, a memoir that takes the reader from Caligiuri’s growing up years in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of south Minneapolis to a prison cell. His urban life was marked by school truancy, drug use and dealing, crime, violence, and a lack of purpose. All this despite loving parents and a grandmother who never gave up on him, who wanted and expected so much more. He doesn’t blame them for the choices he made.

I’ve never read a book like this because, well, I’ve never read a book written by an inmate. His story is both revealing and yet not so. I kept waiting for Caligiuri to share information on the crime that landed him a 34-year prison sentence in 1999. He never did. To me, the absence of that presents a gaping hole in an otherwise revealing read. For the record, he is in prison for robbery and second-degree murder with a scheduled release in 2022.

A threading theme throughout Caligiuri’s story seems to be an innate desire to change. Yet, the pull of environment, the pull of long-time friends, the pull of drugs, the pull of darkness overwhelmed him. Depression defined that darkness. Given the recent public shift toward addressing mental health issues, this particular part of the story is especially enlightening in its in-depth details. My heart hurt for the young adult overcome by an illness that is too often not addressed by society (although that seems to be changing).

Caligiuri doesn’t write about daily prison life as much as he writes about his feelings and his struggles to maintain his sanity within the confines of a penal institution. When he throws food out of his cell and when he hides a banned something (which he fails to identify) in his cell during a lockdown, I feel no sympathy for the rebellion, defiance and anger he holds. Perhaps I should. But then my thoughts trace back to his crime.

How you view this book depends, I think, on your experiences. If you have been personally affected by violent crime either directly or indirectly through a family member or friend as I have been, you will probably react differently than a reader who has never been victimized.

I appreciate, though, this honesty in Caligiuri’s book: I looked around and everyone had a story about getting f****d by the system, or by their best friend, or the mother of their kids.

Blame, blame, blame…anyone but themselves for their incarceration. That this inmate-writer recognizes that lack of responsibility and accountability is noteworthy.

The author considers himself a much different person than the young adult who entered prison nearly two decades ago. That is evident through the telling of his story. He’s clearly proven himself as an author with a unique voice. He can write. He’s educated himself. He’s matured. In five years he’ll leave prison, trying to determine his new role in the world away from the men who have become his family and away from the place that’s been home for so long.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Set in central Minnesota, a psychological thriller draws my personal interest May 5, 2017

 

I BLAME IT ALL on Nancy Drew. She is the reason I read mysteries more than any genre. The series was especially popular when I was growing up.

So it’s no surprise that, after reading a review of a debut mystery written by Minnesotan Frank F. Weber, I simply had to get my hands on Murder Book. His publicist obliged.

 

Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.

Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.

 

But there’s more to this I need to read this book than its mystery classification. The author grew up in Pierz. My husband likewise is from the area and knew the Weber family. Frank’s mom was Randy’s teacher, a brother a classmate.

The book is set primarily in and around Pierz. I was curious to see how the setting would weave into the plot. We writers are often advised to “write what you know.” The author’s familiarity with rural Morrison County and its people and his knowledge as a forensic psychologist are deeply imprinted throughout this fictional story.

Murder Book held my interest from beginning to end as I tried to determine what happened to 16-year-old Mandy Baker who vanished, followed by the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl some 10 years later.

The story narration switches between the main character, Jon Frederick, key suspect in Mandy’s disappearance and now a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator; Serena Bell, Jon’s long ago love interest; and the perpetrator, Panthera. This method of storytelling offers in-depth character insights that define this book as a psychological thriller. Jon, for example, exhibits obsessive traits in his fixation on numbers and more. Panthera’s narcissism shows in his thought process and horrific crimes.

This is much more than simply a whodunit story of crimes, resolution of those crimes and a look at minds of criminals, the accused and victims. The author, raised in a Catholic family of 10 children, incorporates the region’s strong Catholicism and faith base into his book. I would expect that in a story set in Pierz.

Throughout the story, Weber also includes powerful statements that are especially credible in the context of his extensive experience as a forensic psychologist. According to his back book cover blurb, he has completed assessments for homicide, sexual assault and physical assault cases. In particular, I took note of these statements written into this work of fiction:

The perfect victim is the one who never goes to the police.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

Narcissists…can’t stand being denied.

No family member comes out of a bad situation unscathed…

Our most powerful drive is a desire for affirmation—to be heard, understood, comforted, and soothed.

There’s one more nuance of setting that I appreciate about Weber’s book. He writes about rocks pocking the landscape of Morrison County. I have seen many a rock pile in this central Minnesota region and heard many a story about rock picking from my husband. And now I’ve heard another, this time associated with a fictional crime.

FYI: Murder Book, the title of Weber’s mystery, is defined as follows: the twenty-first century term for a cold case where a homicide is suspected.

His book, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, releases May 9. For more information, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Images and my review copy are courtesy of Krista Rolfzen Soukup at Blue Cottage Agency.

 

Beyond violence, two artists show that hope rises March 7, 2017

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson.

TUCKED INTO TWO CORNERS in two galleries are two tributes by two artists.

Both honor Barb Larson, murdered on December 23, 2016, in an act of domestic violence. She was a long-time friend to artist Judy Saye-Willis and an acquaintance to artist Dana Hanson. Both chose to remember Barb in their exhibits currently showing at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

Dana painted an oil on canvas portrait of Barb, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism employee who stopped occasionally to place orders at the bakery where Dana works. “I just wanted to do something positive to remember…she was genuine and very nice,” Dana said. The result is her “In Memory of Barb Larson” painting, based on a photo.

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis also honors Barb Larson. The pieces, from left to right, are titled "Darkness of Death 1", "Darkness of Death 2", "Destruction", "Hope", "Hope Rising" and "The Light of Hope".

This series of fiber art pieces by Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis focuses on death and hope. The pieces, from left to right, are titled “Darkness of Death 1,” “Darkness of Death 2,” “Destruction,” “Hope,” “Hope Rising” and “The Light of Hope.”

Judy’s artwork themed on death and hope spans half a wall and includes six pieces. Three framed works were already completed prior to Barb’s murder. They are an expression of “what’s happening in our culture today,” she said, specifically citing ISIS and the violence in Aleppo, Syria, as inspiring the art. But, once the events of December 23 unfolded locally, Judy created three more related fiber art pieces using natural dye materials. The result is a compelling series of framed art and panels focusing on death and hope.

I angled my camera up to photograph "Darkness of Death 2."

I angled my camera up to photograph “Darkness of Death 2.” When Judy created this scene with blood dripping and an executioner’s mask, she was thinking of ISIS and the violence/situation in Aleppo.

“…I was feeling raw, emotional with nowhere to go with it,” Judy said. “It (Barb’s murder) was senseless. I went to my studio and started the first piece. I tried three times to dye the piece black, unsuccessfully. I called it “The Darkness of Death 1.”

Simply titled: "Hope."

Madonna and child, simply titled: “Hope.”

Once she finished the black panel, Judy transitioned into the theme of hope. That was prompted by a Catholic church official she heard talking about faith and hope on the morning of December 23 (the day of Barb’s murder) on CBS This Morning. The result is two more hope-inspired fiber art panels.

As I viewed both artists’ tributes to Barb Larson, I could see the emotion within the artwork. Dana succeeds, through the strokes of her brush and the paint colors she chose, to portray the woman described as vivacious and friendly by those who knew her. Genuine warmth glows in Dana’s painting of Barb. I can see Barb’s personality in that portrait.

Judy’s art differs significantly, leaving more open to interpretation, more room for the viewer to insert his/her experiences, emotions and reactions. In the first three darker pieces, beginning with the length of black-dyed cloth, there is no ignoring the darkness of a violent death. That Judy chose to confront and share that in her work makes a powerful visual public statement whether considering the violence in Aleppo or the violence in Faribault.

"Hope Rising," says Judy Saye-Willis, "is about moving forward from tragedy."

“Hope Rising,” says Judy Saye-Willis, “is about moving forward from tragedy.”

Equally as important are the three hope-inspired pieces that follow. Those, too, make a powerful visual public statement.

A close-up of "The Light of Hope," which Judy calls her strongest piece.

A close-up of “The Light of Hope,” which Judy calls the strongest piece in this series.

Through their art, Judy and Dana have opened the conversation about domestic and other violence in a deeply personal, emotional and introspective way.

Dana’s exhibit includes a trio of horse paintings titled MESSENGERS OF HOPE. They are, left to right, subtitled “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace”

And any time we begin to think and talk about these difficult issues, hope rises.

FYI: At noon today, HOPE Center and the Faribault Chamber are rallying at the Chamber office (where Barb Larson was murdered) as part of a statewide effort, “It Happens Here: A Statewide Day to End Domestic Violence.”

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the artists.

 

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