Sunday, September 7, 2003

Anguished family wants to warn other women

There is so much these people would like to say. Pent up thoughts about domestic violence in general. About the murder of two people in particular.

They sit at a table in a coffee shop. The two women look vaguely alike, as sisters do. Dark hair, something about the shape of their faces. The men are a study in contrasts. One bearded and comfortably shaggy. The other clean shaven with light brown hair brushed back from his face.

Their eyes are horribly the same. Grief-stricken. Their anguish appears fresh, although the terrible, the unthinkable thing happened two years ago today.

Shannon Nolan Broe - daughter, niece, volleyball coach, Walnut Hills grad, UC student, photographer, baker of cakes, caregiver to the elderly, mother-to-be - was bludgeoned to death with an aluminum baseball bat. Not by a stranger but by a man well known to the people around this table. People who had bought the man Christmas presents, shared holiday meals with him. Shannon's high school sweetheart, someone she met on a church hayride, her husband of two years. He was convicted of killing the 24-year-old woman and their unborn daughter, Alexandra.

I apologize for asking them to speak of Alexandra and Shannon. Shannon's parents and her aunt and uncle are polite, but I can see that this is a silly concern. They will speak of her without urging. She is never far from their thoughts. Shannon's mother, Sharon Nolan, thinks of her oldest daughter when she wakes up, when she tries to sleep, when she is behind the wheel of a car or sitting at the table where they shared their last meal. All the time.

Her Uncle Bill Barton sometimes crams his 6-foot-plus frame into one of Shannon's old sweatshirts. "Just to feel close to her." Shannon's aunt, Terry Barton, shrugs helplessly and says, "The sadness can be so overwhelming. It has changed us all."

L.C. Nolan, Shannon's father, says, "If this isn't a nightmare, what is it?" He is haunted by the memory that he gave her to this man, walking her down the aisle of St. Francis De Sales Church.

On her wedding day in 1999, Shannon wrote, "Our family is a circle of strength and love, with every birth and every union, the circle grows. Every joy adds more love, every crisis makes the circle stronger." And her family struggles to honor that belief.

Shannon kept a secret from them for 10 years. The slapping. Kicking. Choking. The escalating abuse.

"So hard to believe that Shannon would put up with it," says her father. But he knows a lot more now. He has heard stories from other parents, other women. Domestic violence affects 2.5 million women a year, 4,000 of them killed by their mates. He and Sharon promised themselves when the trial was over, when they could speak without jeopardizing the careful case against John Broe, they would honor their daughter's memory by trying to save someone else's daughter. Talbert House, Women Helping Women, the YWCA - the Nolans want women to know there is help available.

Anything else?

Sharon says she wishes she could find the right words for women in abusive relationships, tell them what she never had the chance to say to her daughter.

"Please look at us," she says, raising those sad, tormented eyes. "If you don't love yourself enough, please love us enough to leave."

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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