Sunday, August 26, 2001

Carrie's mom hurt, but not silent

Five years after Carrie Culberson was killed, her mother copes by speaking against domestic violence

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLANCHESTER — Before her 22-year-old daughter was killed, Debbie Culberson had no desire to speak in public.

        But during the five years since Carrie Culberson's highly publicized disappearance and murder, the Blanchester woman has taken center stage dozens of times to speak out against domestic violence.

[photo] Debbie Culberson at home with a remembrance of her slain daughter.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        She has told the story of her daughter and the boyfriend who murdered her. High school students, church members and even prison inmates have listened to her in absorbed silence.

        The public speaking serves as psychological therapy for Ms. Culberson and as a gripping educational experience for her listeners.

        “I wanted to put a human face on domestic violence,” Ms. Culberson said. “I want to bring a greater public awareness about domestic violence, that it's not just family relationships, but also girlfriend-boyfriend.”

        Ms. Culberson will be speaking about Carrie and domestic violence Wednesday, the five-year anniversary of her daughter's murder.

        In a special ceremony, a plaque bearing Carrie Culberson's picture will be hung next to the entrance door of the Blanchester Police Station. The plaque will include an explanation of the case and a pledge from the police never to stop searching for her body.

        The plaque is part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit Debbie Culberson won against Blanchester for botching the search for her daughter's body in the days after her disappearance.

        “I'm looking forward to working with the police,” Ms. Culberson said. “Not knowing where Carrie is and what happened to her has left a void in my life. We missed a whole part of the grieving process. We have no place to go visit Carrie.”

        Ms. Culberson, 47, has worked for 13 years as a clerk/secretary for Blanchester's utility department. But because of the continued stress from her daughter's murder, Ms. Culberson has been on sick leave from her job since November.

        Divorced, she keeps busy by working on improvements to her 102-year-old yellow wood-frame house and spends time with her daughter, Christina Knox, who lives in Blanchester, and her 1-year-old grandson, Bailey.

        Speaking out about domestic violence provides an additional purpose to her life.

        Ms. Culberson views Vincent Doan, Carrie's boyfriend who was convicted of killing her, as the classic abuser.

        “He was jealous, controlling and violent,” she said. “My mother was abused, I was abused, and I saw Carrie going through the same thing.”

        Carrie dated Mr. Doan for more than two years.

        Ms. Culberson saw how Mr. Doan chipped away at Carrie's self-esteem. Carrie was a popular Blanchester High School student who was a class officer, a cheerleader and a school choir member. She played soccer, track, softball and volleyball.

        “Carrie was always such a strong-willed person,” Ms. Culberson said. “It surprised me that she allowed herself to become a victim.”

        She told Carrie several times that she needed to leave Mr. Doan. But she said every time Carrie attempted to break up with him, he would beat her.

        “He would pick fights with anybody she went out with,” Ms. Culberson said. “He said if he couldn't have her, nobody else could have her. Carrie was with him out of fear.”

        In her speeches about domestic violence, Ms. Culberson encourages those in abusive relationships to seek help and to leave the abuser.

        Besides helping the abused, Ms. Culberson said she hopes her talks also help abusers recognize what they're doing and obtain professional counseling.

        “It educates all of us to hear first-hand what it is like for Debbie Culberson to watch her daughter go through that relationship,” said Ann MacDonald, executive director of Women Helping Women, a Cincinnati agency that assists victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. “Domestic violence is occurring more frequently among teen-agers.”

        Ms. Culberson said domestic violence hurts not only the victim, but also the victim's family.

        “Carrie's suffering is over with, and I thank God for that,” shesaid. “But we'll be left in pain for the rest of our lives.”


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