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Family, friends walk in high heels to honor domestic violence victim, to warn others

Sixth annual Kava Talks Heels 2 Heal seeks to raise awareness about domestic violence, raise money to help those in need

Terrie Toilolo, mother of Chynna Toilolo, carries a photo of Chynna while participating in the sixth annual In Heels 2 Heal domestic violence walk at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Chynna Toilolo’s body was found in Ogden Canyon in May, and in June her boyfriend was arrested and charged with murder.
Terrie Toilolo, mother of Chynna Toilolo, carries a photo of Chynna while participating in the sixth annual Kava Talks In Heels 2 Heal domestic violence walk at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Chynna Toilolo’s body was found in Ogden Canyon in May, and in June her boyfriend was arrested and charged with murder.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Junior Toilolo tried to cram his feet into his little sister’s stylish heels, but in the end he settled for the leopard print pumps lent to him by a friend.

“I wouldn’t hear the end of it,” he laughed when asked what his younger sister, Chynna Toilolo, would think of him and about 100 other men walking a mile in heels to raise awareness about the issue that killed his sister — domestic violence. “It felt like it was 5 miles. I don’t know what was going on. ...I started getting used to it toward the end, but my toes really hurt.”

Lopine “Chynna” Toilolo was murdered and her body dumped near a river in Ogden Canyon last May. She went missing Mother’s Day weekend after visiting her boyfriend, Andy Dennis, who was arrested and charged with killing her in June. Toilolo’s family spoke about her and the signs of domestic violence they now see in retrospect as part of the sixth annual Kava Talks Heels 2 Heal at the International Peace Gardens with the Blister Sisters and Diva Dogs. It’s an event organized by Pacific Islander Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR.org).

For her family, it was a morning to joyfully honor the woman who was “the life of the party” while also sharing the heartbreaking realities of the social epidemic that claimed her life. As the walkers started through a purple and white balloon arch, they were led by the Toilolo family. Her mother broke down crying and later finished the loop near the Jordan River Parkway clutching her daughter’s photo.

Junior Toilolo said his sister was the sunshine in so many lives.

“When people say she was extra, she did what’s required and a whole lot more,” Junior Toilolo said. “She could go into a room with 100 strangers and come out with 100 more friends. She loved hard. ... She’s just a loving person.”

The reality is that 1 in 4 people will experience domestic violence, and since 2000, 42% of homicides in Utah were the result of domestic violence, according to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Lucy Toilolo, Chynn’a aunt, talked about the signs that friends and family should look for and how they might get help before several cousins shared some memories of Chynna.

Among the signs were becoming overly apologetic or fearful, changes in eating or sleeping habits, developing anxiety or substance abuse issues, and withdrawing from family and friends.

Junior Toilolo said the fact that his headstrong, outgoing sister could be pulled into a violent domestic relationship is an indicator to him that it could happen to anyone.

“It doesn’t matter who you are — female or male,” Junior Toilolo said. “You could be in the same situation. ... He took advantage of her when she was in her most vulnerable moments. He made her feel like she was somebody at her lowest point, which made her gravitate to him more.”

Junior Toilolo said her abuser had two children and she was eager to give them a loving home. They became a way to keep Chynna close, even when the relationship began to unravel.

“She always wanted to be a mom, which played into what happened to her,” he said.

Even though Junior Toilolo didn’t realize the abuse his sister was suffering, he still wrestles with guilt.

“There’s a lot of stuff I regret,” he said. “I’ve got to be honest and say I didn’t see all of the signs. Even though we were brother and sister, she did what she wanted and never listened to me anyway.”

In the wake of her death, he’s struggled to untangle the agonizing details of her death from the beauty of the life she lived.

“Most of the stuff, I found out afterward,” he said. “It really broke me. I started blaming myself, like I should have done something.”

He doesn’t hesitate when asked what advice he’d give some other brother, uncle or father who suspects someone they love is in an abusive relationship.

“My advice would be don’t wait,” he said. “Do something. ...Now that I think about it, I’d rather have my sister mad at me for the rest of my life as long as she is still breathing. ... When you start seeing signs, trust your gut. If you have a feeling, you know the person, if you start seeing signs, don’t wait.”