By Brenda L. Holmes email@example.com
---- — Debbie Norris was the keynote speaker at this year’s Handbags for Hope Luncheon and Live & Silent Auction, which benefited Beacon of Hope for Women.
BOH is a domestic violence resource center on the city’s Westside led by executive director Terry Moore. This is the sixth year for the event, which started out with 80 attendees.
“This is another sold-out event,” Moore said. “Can you believe all this started six years ago? Tickets were $5 and we had about 80 attendees.
“Last year, I challenged you to get a change jar and to save money all year because some of you got mad when the purses you wanted went to someone else,” she said. “I did that. In fact, I had three jars of change, so let the bidding wars begin.”
Moore shared news about the organization and charged them to be generous with their funds.
“We’ve had so many successes this year,” she said. “But we are tired. We need your strength, donations, and help. We also need your love and prayers.”
Moore invited domestic violence and sexual assault speaker Debbie Norris to be the keynote speaker for the event. Norris lost her daughter, Heather Norris, in 2007, when her boyfriend killed her. She was only 20-years-old at the time.
Indianapolis Metropolitan Police chaplain Rick Kassel introduced Norris.
“I met Debbie on the worst night of her life,” Kassel said. “I had to notify her about her daughter. It was horrific what happened to her. Debbie is a dear lady and has made remarkable efforts in this area.”
Norris has been with the IMPD communications department for more than 20 years and part of the Baker One-Speedway Police Project with BOH. Baker One is a model program that addresses domestic violence homicide and serious assault by objectively identifying high risk victims and perpetrators with repeated police runs.
“I am proud to be part of the Baker One program,” Norris said. “It’s an awesome program.”
After losing her daughter, she began speaking to teens about the signs of domestic violence and sexual abuse.
“I’ve spoken at numerous schools across the country,” she said. “And each time I do I look out and see it on their faces when they get it. Now I’m not the best speaker in the world but Heather’s story is true and that makes it powerful.”
She said she can almost see the moment when a teenage girl or boy comes to understand that they may be in an abusive relationship or knows a friend who is.
“They don’t even realize they are being abused,” she said. “I want the message to get out. Our youth need to be educated. I wish Heather had been educated.
“Heather was murdered,” Norris said. “I know murder is such an ugly word but that’s the only way it can be described. He stabbed her and took her body and stuffed it in a trash can. He poured gasoline over her body and set her on fire. But that was not enough.
“He then took a chainsaw and cut her up into pieces and put them into black trash bags,” she said. “He took her to the Southside of Indy and he threw her away in dumpsters like she was trash.
“I will never hold her again,” she said. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I don’t get to hold her and tell her I love her. Kids need to learn that abuse is not normal. They can choose to be free of abuse.”
Norris said she was so thankful for the chance to speak at the event and that she has become very familiar with the many good things the staff of BOH has been able to do for domestic violence victims in the area.
“Your donations you make today will make a difference,” she said. “You are saving somebody’s life.”
A BOH client, only referred to as “Jerry,” was introduced by event emcee Chuck Lofton.
“We are conditioned to be abused,” Jerry said. “We are taught to think it's normal — it’s not normal.”
She said her abuse was never physical but that verbal abuse starting with her father and mother led her into a life of bad relationships.
“Verbal abuse goes deeper than you realize,” Jerry said. “My self-value decreased over time.”
She said she turned to a life as a stripper and prostitute because her self-esteem became so low she saw no other way.
“Beacon of Hope helped me,” she said. “That’s the reason I’m here.”