SALT LAKE CITY — About 30 advocates gathered on the steps of the Utah Capitol Wednesday evening at a somber vigil honoring more than three dozen people killed in cases of domestic violence last year.
"We need to do more," said Jenn Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. "Every single one of these deaths was preventable."
Inside, lawmakers were making last-minute tweaks, at the request of gun-rights groups, to a proposal designed to protect more victims from potential aggressors.
In 2017, 37 adults and four children died as a result of domestic violence, according to figures from the Utah Department of Health. The analysis includes children who were killed in an incident between adults and suicides wherein the perpetrator also killed another person.
The proposal that was tweaked late Wednesday seeks to fix gaps in the law that were exposed when Jeremy Patterson shot and killed his ex-girlfriend Memorez Rackley, 39, and her son in a Sandy neighborhood in June.
SB27, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, would allow those who have had a relationship but never lived together to obtain a protective order. It also would require police to provide victims with easy-to-understand written information about resources such as shelters and how to seek a stalking injunction.
The Senate late Wednesday changed the legislation to spell out when weapons confiscated in stalking cases could be returned, at the request of representatives from the Utah Shooting Sports Council and National Rifle Association, Weiler said.
"We're rather disappointed that's all we got," said Clark Aposhian of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. He said his group opposes allowing police to confiscate guns in stalking cases because "it clearly lacks a sense of due process."
The new version stipulates that such weapons can be recovered after the injunction expires or in the event a court declines to issue the order. It awaits approval from the House before the Legislature adjourns Thursday at midnight.
In June, Patterson opened fire on a car full of children after school, killing Rackley and her 6-year-old son Jase. Her 11-year-old son Myles and the 8-year-old daughter of a woman who tried to help the Rackley family were shot and injured. Patterson, 32, then took his own life on the side of the street.
Rackley couldn’t have obtained a protective order despite a previous stalking report because she and Patterson had never married or lived together. She could have obtained a stalking injunction, but that court order doesn’t lead to an arrest on the first violation.
At the vigil, candles on the Capitol steps honored those slain in incidents of domestic violence last year. Several said they believe many people don't recognize the signs of an abusive relationship until it is too late.
Jennifer Gardiner said she survived two abusive relationships, and for years failed to realize how dangerous they were, until one of the men broke her face and attempted to strangle her.
"It was almost instinctual to retreat and not tell anyone," she said. "I had no education. I had no awareness," she said.
Among those killed in 2017 was Jill Lloyd, 36, who was shot while driving to work by a man she had a child with. Police believe he then turned the gun on himself.
Nic DeLuca, Lloyd's fiancé who said the pair had found out they were going to have a baby days before she was killed, said he knew Lloyd and her ex had a difficult relationship. But he didn't know just how scared of the man she was until he found her journal weeks after her death, he said.
"The poor girl was terrified of this man," DeLuca said, adding that he wished she would have felt comfortable telling someone without fear of retribution.
In the final hours of the legislative session, Oxborrow's organization was urging lawmakers to provide ongoing money to pay for more victim advocates who can help connect domestic violence victims to resources, she said.
Other pending domestic violence measures include HB165, which would set guidelines for prosecutors and police before a trial, among other changes. Another bill, HB333, would raise the penalty for violating a protective order, making it a class A misdemeanor, instead of a class B misdemeanor for first-time offenses.
Help for victims of domestic violence is available from a 24/7 hotline: 1-800-897-5465 and at udvc.org.