By Jeff Bonty
When officers responded July 18 to a call of shots fired at a home in downtown Kankakee, it wasn’t the first time they had been there. But this time was different. This time, the domestic disturbance between the residents — Ellissa C. Williams and her husband, Steven A. Williams, both 36 — had turned deadly.
Police say Steven A. Williams shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself about 4:30 p.m. that afternoon in a residence in the 900 block of South Schuyler Avenue.
“This case is a tragic example of what domestic violence can lead to,” said Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe.
There’s no shortage of these examples. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there had been 350 murder-suicides in the U.S. this year as of July 22. In 2015, 928 women were killed by male partners. Most were killed with firearms.
And, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s data, 79.2 percent of domestic violence-related homicides are by current intimate partners and 14.3 percent by former intimate partners. About 1 in 10 victims experienced some form of violence in the month preceding their death, the data shows.
And that’s the case with Ellissa and Steve Williams.
At the time of her death, Ellissa was under an order of protection against Steven — the result of a June 4 visit to the home by Kankakee police — meaning he was not legally allowed in the residence with her.
On June 4, officers responding to the home on a domestic disturbance call arrested Steven Williams on charges of domestic battery involving strangulation.
The court set Williams’ bail at $15,000, though Rowe said a $40,000 bond was requested. Steven Williams posted the required 10 percent of the bond and was released.
The court also granted a criminal order of protection filed by the state. Steven Williams was to have no contact with his wife or the couple’s three children as the criminal case moved through the court system. The order further said he was to stay 500 feet away from them.
On June 10, Ellissa Williams filed a motion to dismiss the order of protection.
“I am asking the court to dismiss the restraining order because I need to have contact with the defendant to discuss matters pertaining to our children and for him to see them, to discuss finances and to proceed with filing for divorce,” Ellissa wrote in her motion.
On July 6, the court did not dismiss but amended the order of protection to allow for her requests. The next court date was set for Aug. 3.
The state’s attorney’s office objects to dismissals of protective orders.
“We stand by the original order of protection,” Rowe said Tuesday.
The tragic case brought a response from Harbor House, a nonprofit that advocates for victims of domestic violence.
Executive director Jenny Schoenwetter offered a statistic to put the risk of incidents such as that which occurred here in Kankakee July 18 into perspective. A victim of at least one domestic battery/strangulation faces a 750 percent chance to likely be murdered, she said.
“Domestic violence can happen anywhere … in any home across our community,” the organization posted on its Facebook page in response to Ellissa’s death. “It could be in your neighbor’s home, your coworker’s home or your home. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please take action. Ending domestic violence that takes lives like Ellissa’s is everyone’s responsibility. It takes all of us doing our part to intervene and prevent such acts of violence.”
And according to statistics offered by Rowe, Kankakee County is not immune to domestic violence.
Rowe said his office has dealt with a felony domestic violence case every 36 hours since the beginning of 2020.
The pandemic-related shutdowns have caused an increase in callers to the Harbor House, Schoenwetter said. In June, there was a 60 percent increase in calls over June 2019, she said.
“There are a lot of people affected, but it is something they do not want to talk about. This happens every day,” she said. “It is hard for the victims. There is a fear to leave. There are so many factors. It makes it difficult to understand.”
But there’s help available for those who find themselves in an abusive relationship, Rowe said. There’s also guidance available for those who know someone in an abusive relationship.
Rowe said if you suspect someone is a victim, you need to get them help. Harbor House has a 24-hour hotline, which can be reached by calling 815-932-5800.
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