COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Melinda Tolbert says the murder of her cousin Ryeika Ingersoll changed her life drastically two years ago.
Ingersoll passed away Sept. 2, 2012 after she was shot multiple times by her husband in front of her four sons. Tolbert said Ingersoll's husband then shot himself in front of the kids.
"This is my first time publicly sharing that story about my cousin," Tolbert said. "I feel relieved. I feel like I'm finally making a big step to help victims."
Tolbert, 32, shared her story at the 6th annual Celebration of Hope luncheon that took place at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. About 400 people came to the event and tickets were $35 per person. All funds collected will be used to help victims of domestic violence served by Hope Harbour.
"We hold the luncheon on the third Thursday of September," Kathy Reeves with Hope Harbour said. "October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. We chose the third Thursday of September because of other community events taking place and we hold events in October too. This trend also makes it easy for others to remember our luncheon."
Reeves said Hope Harbour's 33 bed facility is currently full.
"We still provide housing and room for those who need help," Reeves said. "Nine out of the 19 homicides Columbus had this year were caused by domestic violence. Georgia is number one in nation for teen dating violence, and the state is ninth in the nation for domestic violence. These are not the stats that we want to be in top 10 for."
Reeves said one in four women in the world is going to be a subject to some form of domestic violence.
"National studies say a woman is beaten every 15 seconds and a man is abused by his partner every 37.8 seconds in the United States," Reeves explained.
"My cousin was my best friend, so a piece of me has left after she passed," Tolbert said. "I feel empty. Her four boys remind me so much of her, it hurts. If you've never been through it and you have never experienced it, you have no idea. You read about it and hear about it on the news, but you don't think that something like this would ever happen to you and to your family."
Tolbert said she started volunteering with Hope Harbour to help others like her cousin.
"It's very healing for me," Tolbert said. "I'm helping others, but they don't know that they are helping me as well."
Hope Harbour has a 24 hour crisis hot line domestic violence victims can call for help at 706-324-3850.
Those interested in donating, volunteering or seeking guidance can also visit Hope Harbour's web site at http://www.hopeharbour.org/ for more information.