“This page is part of a project that is supported by a National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Community Awareness Project subgrant awarded by the National Association of VOCA Administrators under a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant from the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.”
As Told By Her Mother, Bernadette Barela
by: Georgette Allen
Kristin was a beautiful young mother of three when her life was tragically taken from her. I recently had the opportunity to sit and speak with her mother, Bernadette, who shared insight into an abusive relationship that ended in the death of her daughter. Kristin’s mom shared what it was like to see her only daughter living in an abusive relationship; feeling helpless, unable to put a stop to the abuse, and not knowing what was going to happen at any given moment.
Kristin was only 17 when she met and began dating Manuel. They dated for a few months before moving in together and then Kristin became pregnant with their first child. When she was six months along, Kristin told Manuel that she no longer wanted to be in a relationship with him; he had been verbally and physically abusing her. When Kristin informed Manuel that she wanted to leave him, he took her to the hills, and with gun in hand, informed her that there was only one way out of the relationship.
For 11 years, Kristin endured physical, emotional, and mental abuse by an individual who was supposed to be her loving partner. An individual she shared secrets with, shared intimacy with, and most of all, shared children with. Kristin attempted to leave Manuel many times, only to be faced with what so many domestic violence victims face–fear. She feared for lives: her children’s, her family members’, and her own. Multiple threats had been made throughout their relationship and Kristin believed without a doubt, that Manuel would follow through with his threats.
In August of 2002, Bernadette went by Manuel and Kristin’s home and saw that they were loading up a U-Hall. Manuel would not allow Kristin to tell her mother where they were moving. Pregnant with her second child, Manuel took Kristin and they disappeared. A year went by before Kristin’s parents found out that they had been living in Colorado around Bondad Hill. In 2003, Kristin’s mother finally got to see her; then Manuel moved her again, this time to Texas. Days, weeks, years, went by with no word from Kristin. She was kept isolated from her family, miles away, and under strict watch. The agony that her mother was in, something no mother should have to experience, of not knowing if her only daughter was safe or if she would ever see her again. The isolation was an abuse all of its own. Kristin was not the only victim; the children, her parents, each of them robbed of precious time that can never be given back.
A victim of domestic violence leaves their abuser an average of seven times before leaving permanently. Domestic violence is deep-seated, complex, and often misunderstood by those who have not experienced it. It is a public health issue that extends far beyond the surface of perception. People often ask, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” The misconception that the victim will be safe if she “just leaves” is a dangerous one. In reality, the most dangerous time for the victim is when the relationship with the abuser is severed. Seventy-five percent of domestic violence homicides occur after the victim has left the abuser.
In 2006, after not seeing her daughter for three years, Bernadette received a phone call. It was Kristin, telling her she wanted to come home but she couldn’t leave just yet. Kristin had to make a plan so that she and her children could escape safely; that very phone call was risky. Finally, in June of that same year, Kristin boarded a plane with her children and came home, but not without incident. Manuel received word from neighbors that his wife was loading suitcases and their children into a taxi. He called Bernadette and told her that he had stopped the plane from leaving. She pretended she did not know what he was talking about in hopes that he was just bluffing in an attempt to gain information. As planned, Bernadette arrived at the airport to pick up her daughter and grandchildren, and to her relief, they were there. But before they could leave the airport, a page came over the intercom saying that Kristin had a phone call, likely Manuel trying to locate her whereabouts. They ignored the page and continued on. By the time Kristin had arrived home with her mother, Manuel was already in town. He had driven all night so that he could be there when she arrived. Kristin felt she had no escape and moved back in with Manuel that October.
Kristen and Manuel were living in Farmington when their third child was born in June of 2007. In January 2009, they moved to Bloomfield for a few months before moving to Blanco in April. November 1st of that same year, Bernadette saw her daughter for the last time. They were celebrating their middle child’s birthday at Manuel’s mother’s house. Bernadette was only allowed to see Kristin and the girls for one hour, per Manuel. During the visit, she could tell something was wrong just by Kristin’s demeanor, but Manuel would not leave her side so that they could talk. When the hour was up, he rushed Bernadette out of the house and quickly left with Kristin and the girls.
Kristin had once told her mother, “Mom, I’m unhappy but I’m sacrificing my life for my girls.” On November 22, 2009, Manuel’s parents were visiting Kristin and Manuel at their home in Blanco. He and Kristin had been arguing and she told him she couldn’t do it anymore and that she was leaving. Kristin was headed out the door with Manuel’s mother when he grabbed her by her long hair and pulled her back inside. He dragged her into the bedroom and with his three daughters present in the home, shot Kristin four times. He then fled to Albuquerque and was found two days later with what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Manuel died days later in the hospital.
Bernadette continues to tell Kristin’s story in the hopes of reaching other domestic violence victims and to educate community members about this horrific crime. The effects of domestic violence are not isolated to the partner who is the target of the physical abuse. It affects the children, the family members, the friends, and the community as a whole. Domestic violence is an issue that should not be kept a secret, and for the sake of each and every one of us, cannot be ignored.