Why Did We Lose Rochelle Tatrai?
Today, on the last day of Chanukah, we light the last candle on the Menorah for Rochelle. I attended a funeral today at Temple Bethel for Rochelle Tatrai, my peer. She was the CEO of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, a widely respected social services agency. No one expected this to happen, least of all Rochelle. She was bright, educated and talented. She was the mother of two daughters. She had done what she thought was enough to be safe. She wasn’t living with her long-time partner and father of her children. Her co-workers who had seen her just the day before said she had great ideas and she was full of plans for the future for her Gulf Coast family. No one expected this to happen.
Some knew there was a history of extreme violence. Around 12 years ago, there was a write-up in the newspaper in another community. Rochelle was nearly beaten to death by the same man with a baseball bat and she jumped out of a third story window to save herself, causing her to spend months in recovery. She was a gutsy woman.
Like many battered women, Rochelle identified as a professional. What went on at home didn’t come to the office. She did not share her difficulties at home because it was irrelevant to a job which she performed well. She was different. She could handle this man and she never, ever imagined he would take her life.
But he did, along with his own, never thinking about the effect it would have on the 16 year old daughter who found them. This is not surprising because perpetrators feel entitled to control their families. For perpetrators, life is mostly about what they think, what they want and what they feel. Rochelle may have known he had a gun but never imagined he would use it on her, even if he had threatened that in the past. She could handle this man.
But for CASA, there are several red flags flying high. The fact that there was a history of extreme violence is one. The fact that he had a gun is another. The fact that he may have threatened her with it is yet another.
Who else knew this history? Should we have intervened? Could we have intervened? Could we have saved her life? I am sure her friends and maybe her co-workers who saw her every day are asking themselves the same questions. I am sure her family is asking these questions and especially her daughter who lived with her and who may have known the most of all. We will never have answers and we cannot second guess ourselves.
We CAN educate ourselves for the future. The fatality review committee, led by Frieda Widera, a victim advocate with the Largo Police Department, reviews domestic fatalities in Pinellas County. We know that most domestic homicides are committed with a gun. We know that there is almost always a history of domestic violence before a homicide occurs. We also know that the system forgets to count homicides as domestic violence because we rarely think about death as the ultimate result of a violent relationship. We know that victims who are killed are rarely involved with the system, including our shelters. We know that the system drops most domestic violence charges until they become murders. Now we have an important case, but isn’t it too late? We ought to be able to do better for Rochelle. We ought to do better for her daughters, Marisa and Selena. We ought to do better for our whole community.
By Linda Osmundson, CASA's Executive Director