March 15, 2022
The mass shooting during a court approved supervised visitation in Sacramento on February 28, 2022 stirs up so much pain, anguish and anger. Everyone in the Sacramento community is touched by this tragedy, as are those of us who work in Family Justice Centers throughout the state. It is yet another horrific example of the connection between intimate partner violence and mass casualty. It is also a critical reminder of the need to address gaps in our current safety and protection system to prevent future mass casualties.
For the past two weeks, the community working every day to protect victims of intimate partner violence has grappled with systemic issues that contributed to the loss of three children during a supervised visit with their father - Samia Mora Gutierrez (13 years old), Samantha Mora Gutierrez (10 years old), Samarah Mora Gutierrez (9 years old) - and Nathaniel Kong, a member of The Church in Sacramento, who generously offered to supervise the visit. Our hearts go out to the mother who lost her children at the hands of their father and to the wife and three children left fatherless by the murder of Mr. Kong.
Domestic violence advocates, family law attorneys, family law judges, and mediators are familiar with this scenario of supervised visits with estranged and violent non-custodial parents. A father, previously barred by a Domestic Violence Restraining Order clearly stating he was not to possess any firearm, used a rifle to murder his own children during a court ordered supervised visit. The father then killed the adult court approved supervisor and finally killed himself. The killer’s violent history, as described by the mother when she asked the court for protection for herself and her children, involved strangulation, mental health issues, and a cold statement that he would kill her, but he “didn’t know what to do with the children.” There were many systems involved, many missed opportunities for intervention, and several deep deficiencies that contributed to this and other acts of homicide and mass casualties.
The California Family Justice Center Network (CFJCN) is a network of agencies throughout California that work to protect victims of violence, including children. The Family Justice Center model focuses on integration of services under one roof and co-location of staff members from a range of multidisciplinary agencies. The model is built upon collaboration across systems because victims need streamlined access to support and services. Collaboration is essential to domestic homicide prevention. Effective collaboration requires system-wide communication and education on the lethality factors that can lead to domestic violence homicides.
The California Family Justice Center Network calls upon state and local leaders, courts, law enforcement and community partners to work together to adopt policies that can prevent the tragedy of future mass murders, including:
Statewide policies and procedures that enhance child protection in custody cases;
Comprehensive improvements to supervised visitation safety protocols and practices, including expanded judicial education on lethality factors that contribute to increased violence and homicides;
Increased enforcement of firearm restriction laws, starting with implementation of SB 320 passed in 2021 to strengthen firearm relinquishment procedures;
Increased communication between criminal and family courts;
Public funding and support for supervised visitation centers with security features, including metal detectors, secure parking lots, and separate entrances;
Funding for safety plans and security systems for domestic violence service providers and Family Justice Centers;
Support for trauma reduction programs for children, such as Camp Hope America, to meet the needs of all children who have experienced the trauma of family violence.
Every year women and children are killed by violent abusers. Recent research points to domestic violence as a precipitating factor for over 68% of mass shootings (Zeoli and Paruk 2019; Webster et al. 2020 as cited). We must come together and improve the gaping holes in our response system before another preventable tragedy strikes.
For all survivors and community members who need extra support, please contact your local Family Justice Center located on the California Family Justice Center Network website.
For questions, contact Paul Durenberger at DurenbergerP@sacda.org.