He was already outside when she drove up.
He knew her too well. She had sent him a photo of their two young sons, hoping to placate him enough with the photo so that he would leave her and the boys alone. She made sure the background behind them was an empty white wall with nothing identifying their location.
But he knew.
She was done, their relationship in shambles. That day, I advised her as much as I could on how to obtain a temporary restraining order because the shambles were turning treacherous and nasty. Recently, he had purchased a number of knives and firearms, including an AR-15-style weapon that he showed off in photos and videos.
But the restraining order hadn’t been served yet. He hadn’t been home, but was camped outside the home in which she and the boys had sought refuge.
So she called 911.
It was 4:24 p.m.
She started texting me.
“Still waiting,” she wrote from her car about two hours later, parked a distance away from the home. “Kids getting antsy. Baby is hungry.”
She and the boys slipped inside the home via a back way with the help of a neighbor. She made sure the gate was padlocked from the inside and waited for police to come.
He was waiting, too. He had also called 911, telling the dispatcher that he wanted to check on his children’s safety.
The neighbor called, concerned about the man pacing outside and “acting strange,” Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.
Hours passed. She fed the kids, gave them baths, put them to bed, tried to pretend that everything was OK, unsure of how to answer the oldest one who asked where Daddy was.
She called 911 again. No available units yet, she was told. It was 7:43 p.m. He was still outside.
“We could be dead by now,” she texted.
He kept texting her, calling her, posting humiliating things about her on social media.
She didn’t respond.
Friends and family members saw the posts and called to see if she and the boys were OK. Yes, she told them. For now.
At 10:42 p.m., she could hear him trying to open the gate. Music was coming from his cellphone. Neighboring dogs started barking.
She called 911 again.
A car door closed. The music stopped.
“I think he just yelled something,” she texted me.
At 10:46 p.m., officers were dispatched and were on scene 11 minutes later, Gallegos said.
Finally, at 11:22 p.m., she texted: “These officers are great.”
They told her she should have let the 911 dispatcher know she had a restraining order against him, so her call would have been escalated to a higher priority. But she had told the dispatchers about the order, she said – every time she called. Gallegos confirmed that she had mentioned the order in at least the first call.
Albuquerque police officers, whom she called professional and reassuring, assessed the situation, officially served him the restraining order, ordered him to leave, told him to stay away and have no contact whatsoever or they would be back.
I wondered, though, if it would take them another seven hours to be back. Maybe the next time seven hours – or one hour – would be too late.
Those of you who follow me on social media saw this happening in real time this week, my posts growing increasingly upset as the hours passed. It was a helpless feeling and, in my anxiety, I had turned to Twitter, tweeting to the Albuquerque Police Department and Chief Harold Medina accounts, including on their tweet touting October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
To his credit, Medina contacted me early the next morning and had Gallegos look into why the young woman’s call had languished so long. Gallegos said it appears the 911 calls were given lower priority because neither party reported threats or violence. The parties were in separate locations – him outside, her inside – and neither appeared to be in imminent danger.
It was also unclear as to whether weapons were involved, he said, though the woman insists she told them they likely were.
That night, officers in that area of the city were also dealing with two higher priority domestic violence calls, two suicide calls, eight vehicle crashes – three with injuries, reports of shots fired and the discovery of a body.
In other words, a typical night in the big city.
APD fields some 40,000 calls for service each month, too many for a department experiencing a dearth of police officers, just like many other cities across the country.
The fledgling Albuquerque Community Safety Department, an initiative of Mayor Tim Keller’s administration to handle some of the nonviolent calls, is still in the process of hiring and training civilian responders.
And it’s not just a problem on this end, but in the beginning, when a partner decides to break away from an abusive relationship. Filing a temporary restraining order, getting help and getting out thrusts a partner into a maddeningly complicated morass.
Bev McMillan hopes to help make the process less complicated. She’s the manager of the Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center, a one-stop hub for victims of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault seeking assistance in navigating the criminal justice system, and obtaining medical and legal help, social services, counseling, clothing, temporary housing and advocacy.
The center at Silver and Seventh SW opened in 2007 and has helped thousands of survivors, yet it remains what McMillan calls the “best kept secret in town.”
“The average citizen doesn’t know how to do most of the things they are forced to do when they are a victim and need help,” she said. “We are here to help, all under one roof.”
During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I hope to make more of you aware of what the Family Resource Center does in an upcoming column. It shouldn’t remain a best-kept secret.
It isn’t any more for the young woman. She has an advocate and an appointment now at the center. It took less than seven hours to make that happen.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.