ou may have heard this news story: A 9-1-1 dispatcher in Dayton, Ohio received a call from Marquell Brown reporting a crime.
"Where’s your mommy at?" the dispatcher asked.
Marquell’s voice quivered slightly: "She’s upstairs in her room dead," he said.
The dispatcher inquired further:
"When did this happen?"
"Today," replied Marquell.
"How long ago?" asked the dispatcher. "Do you know?"
"Right now," said Marquell.
The dispatcher asked more questions, and Marquell answered most of them, including what the assailant looked like and where he fled.
Marquel is 5 years old.
His mother, Marquita Brown, had been shot in the head in their Dayton apartment just before midnight on June 25. He used a cell phone to report that "she won’t wake up."
Brown’s ex-boyfriend has been charged in the case.
Marquell’s adult-like response and bravery in the face of a horrific crime made front pages and homepages all over the country. Even more heart-tugging was his response during the week prior to his mother’s funeral, when he asked on several occasions, "When is my mommy coming home?"
Marquita and Marquell – one brutally murdered and one who will live with the emotional scars – are victims of a growing American social phenomena called domestic violence and part of a story that Staff Sgt. LeQuane Harris doesn’t want lost in the heap of short-lived media hype. The incident launched the Fort Lee Soldier into action as an advocate, one who wants to help prevent such crimes and has vowed to push the military to bolster victim support services.
"I must do something more than just tell her story," said the Soldier assigned to Alpha Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion, 23rd QM Brigade. "I want to take some action. We have all kinds of support at the unit level for things besides domestic violence. If someone approached a Soldier about domestic violence, most of them wouldn’t know what to say."
Harris admitted that she didn’t know how to respond to a report of domestic violence prior to Brown’s death. She still may not know, but the Dayton case has impacted her enough that she is seeking answers. And those answers may be easier to comprehend because Marquita Brown is Harris’ younger sister.
"It was a pretty tragic thing that happened," said Harris, who said she, like Marquell, is a secondary victim, "but something positive can come out of this. I know I can’t touch all, but there’s someone out there who I can help through her story."
Harris has been helping all her life. The petite 32-year-old is the oldest of nine siblings that grew up in a strict but supportive family. She took on caretaker responsibilities early in her life to help support the household.
"I did it all – cooked, cleaned, changed diapers," she said.
But when Harris received an early-morning phone call a few hours after the murder, she could do nothing. The next two weeks would be the hardest in her life, making funeral arrangements, raising funds for expenses and finally laying to rest a beloved sister who left Marquell and another son. The entire ordeal was surreal to Harris, who felt the reality about a month after she returned to Fort Lee.
"I went to the bowling alley to eat," she said, noting she was alone, "and I just started crying."
She cried to the point of heaving. Harris was exhausted, and the fact that her sister was gone settled heavily upon her. It was all a spring of relief, she said.
"It helped me to let out that cry," she said. The release of emotions and support of family, friends and unit members gave her a new perspective. "I felt better, and I started accepting that it is what it is. I feel a lot better than I did three months ago, but I will always grieve for her."
Now she is ready to fight. Grieving, she said, can be power – power to change, power to honor her sister’s life as one that was meaningful and substantive; one that she refuses to allow to rest as a mere entry on a column of statistics; one that can be the impetus to provide a source of relief and comfort to those at risk and those in danger.
"I want to become a certified domestic violence advocate," she said, "someone who can gather all the facts about an incident, so that if a Soldier does come to me, I’ll know what to say and what not to say."
Harris said besides designating domestic violence advocates at the unit level, she favors having a fund that can be used to support victims when they’ve made the decision to flee.
"A lot of individuals in these relationships don’t have the money or the means to leave," she said. "I think it would help and possibly save someone’s life."
Terri Ceaser, a victim rights advocate at Army Community Service’s Family Advocacy Program, said Harris’ efforts to bring attention to matters of domestic violence is quite unique because not much time has passed since her sister’s murder.
"She is passionate about what she’s doing, and I commend her to the highest degree to want to go out and let people know that this not only affects the immediate victim but the family as well," she said.
Harris said she has been approached to tell her story during an Oct. 20 post event. Details for the Domestic Abuse Prevention Month Collaboration Luncheon have not been finalized.
Marquell Brown, Harris’ nephew, has received a host of intervention services. He and his brother are currently living with Harris’ mother.
For Harris, telling her story and honoring her sister are part of the healing process. She said she wants to demonstrate that one can emerge stronger and wiser from any tragedy, pain or suffering.
"I want to show people that no matter how bad it is, you can get through it," she said, "that you can do something positive about it no matter what it is. You can have strength; you will be all right."