Priscilla Warmbo held up pictures of her twin daughters and recounted the spiral of domestic violence that led to their murders at a Key Peninsula home more than 13 years ago.
At a forum on domestic violence prevention Tuesday, she choked up recalling the horrific ending for her children June 13, 1997.
Sarah Warmbo and Charity Warmbo, both 22, died of multiple gunshot wounds. The prime suspect, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her 2-year-old son, was found dead four months later from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Sarah Warmbo had obtained a no-contact order and left her boyfriend because of his abuse. But those steps weren’t enough.
“He still found her,” Warmbo said Tuesday night in Federal Way. “He still threatened her.”
Warmbo, who lives on Key Peninsula, has been recounting her tragedy since late 1997 with the hope of preventing domestic violence – a term she redefines for her own experience.
“It’s not domestic violence,” Warmbo said. “It’s terrorism in the home.”
Warmbo recounts her past as a member of victims impact panels, who primarily address people convicted of domestic violence. These criminals are required to attend as part of their sentencing.
“It has been a real journey – not an easy one,” she told a crowd of 150 people at Todd Beamer High School. She advised parents with children: “Tell them you love them. Most important, show them.”
The event was sponsored by the “street law” class at Todd Beamer and a committee of Federal Way leaders.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The forum also included outspoken leaders on the issue of domes- tic violence, including Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Mad-sen and state Attorney General Rob McKenna.
But it was the real-life stories of Warmbo and another victim impact panel member, Phil White of Tacoma, that stood out.
White, 65, recalled how he was physically and verbally abused by his mother and stepfather.
“The domestic violence perpetrator becomes a perpetrator as a result of being a victim,” White said. Indeed, White said, he verbally and emotionally abused his wife and two sons.
He recalled yelling at his sons growing up, “Don’t you screw up because if you screw up, I’m going to be in your face.”
“That’s what (domestic violence is) all about – power and control,” White said.
White said he’s learned not to yell and scream at others, or commit other forms of verbal abuse.
“It’s fixable,” he said. “It’s a learned behavior that can be unlearned.”
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, one of the panelists, said a recent county sampling found that 84 percent of defendants in felony cases had a history of domestic violence.
He called it a vastly under-reported crime that escalates until “somebody gets sent to the hospital or somebody gets sent to the morgue.”
Satterberg said that he found Tuesday’s stories moving and that young people need to hear such speakers.
“A powerful story is worth a thousand lectures,” he said.