Cadets promote domestic violence awareness

Allenia Mullins, Reporter

Melanie Koontz was only 16 years old when she was murdered by her boyfriend on May 15, 2012.

“She was a sophomore at Benson and involved in our JROTC program. She was strangled and left in a creek,” senior JROTC Battalion Commander Anna Burks said. “Her boyfriend was arrested 21 days after her murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. We do this four lap walk not only in her memory, but in hopes that we can prevent another heartless attack like Melanie’s.”

Koontz was not the only Benson student to be affected by domestic violence. On Aug. 14, 2013, former Benson student Mikel Loyd murdered his girlfriend and left her body at Graceland Cemetery.  At that time, there was already an active arrest warrant for him for an alleged assault on her.

This year’s annual walk took place on Oct. 22, 2021 to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Unlike previous years, non-JROTC students were unable to attend.

Besides walking around the track, the cadets listened to several speakers including Jannette Taylor from the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA). Taylor, who serves as president and CEO of the WCA, shared a personal story about her sister who was in a domestic violence relationship for 13 years and how her mother encouraged her sister to remain in the relationship for her child despite her abuse.

She then continued her speech by mentioning the resources WCA has to offer women and children who are in this type of situation.

“We can help you get back on your feet,” Taylor said.

Additionally, WCA offers protection orders, therapy, child custody and more. Besides offering support to victims of domestic violence, they also assist individuals who are dealing with sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking.

According to Taylor, one of WCA’s goals is to inform individuals earlier in order to help them not enter a domestic violence relationship.

Prior to the walk, the JROTC cadets had students sell t-shirts to raise money for awareness and sign a large banner pledging their commitment to stopping it.