As community members gathered in Scoville Hall in Amagansett on Wednesday night to celebrate the life of Blanca Soto, the 29-year-old mother of two who was allegedly stabbed to death by her husband last week in East Hampton, mourners also reflected on domestic violence and what resources the community has to counter a growing problem.
Last week David Soto, 41, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Mrs. Soto after police said he stabbed her to death in her home at the East Hampton Mobile Home Village on Oak View Highway on July 30. The two had been separated, said police, and an order of protection against Mr. Soto had recently expired after Mrs. Soto did not extend it. The fight, said police, erupted over access to the couple’s two sons, 11 and 9 years old. It was their sons that contacted police reporting their mother had been stabbed.
The Retreat, the East End’s sole resource for victims of domestic violence, providing shelter, counseling and legal services as well as preventative education for the community at large, organized Wednesday’s event. While the evening was devoted to Mrs. Soto, her children in attendance, it also put a spotlight on domestic violence on the East End and The Retreat’s need for funding after both the towns, county and the state have dramatically reduced the organization’s funding. After slashing the aid it provided The Retreat last year, this year it is expected the Town of East Hampton will completely cut off all funding to the not-for-profit organization.
For psychotherapist Mary Bromley, who helped found The Retreat in 1987, this is unacceptable.
Bromley, one of six speakers prior to the vigil, recalled what made community leaders organize to create The Retreat almost 25 years ago, lamenting that the same community is watching as its only resource for domestic violence prevention and victim services is being marginalized in the face of looming financial deficits in the towns and the state.
“Blanca Soto, I did not know you,” said Bromley. “I did not hear your screams, but 25 years ago I knew you. This entire town heard you.”
As a therapist, Bromley was asked by the town police to address sex crimes and family violence issues, eventually suggesting to the community at-large that it build a domestic violence shelter. “A perfect marriage” of government leaders, clergy, police and volunteers resulted in the founding of The Retreat, remembered Bromley.
Now, with funding cut from the town, The Retreat has had to cut back in educational programs in area schools, noted Bromley, as well as counseling services.
“Blanca, our town board needs to remember you as well,” said Bromley. “No matter what the political environment, which political party comes in, we are a big hearted, generous town and it needs to remain that way.”
Bromley called on community members to urge the town board, as well as those seeking election this fall, to restore The Retreat’s funding.
Prior to Bromley’s impassioned plea, Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman of The Jewish Center of the Hamptons, spoke of his wish for a community free of domestic violence where all who are vulnerable would be safe from harm.
“Our prayer is that in this community God will bless us with the power and the will to build a community safe for women, for children, the aged and all that are vulnerable,” said Rabbi Zimmerman.
East Hampton Town Police Captain Edward Ecker offered condolences from the whole of the police force to Mrs. Soto’s family, refraining from discussing the investigation and affirming a continued relationship between town police and The Retreat.
“I never had the opportunity to know Blanca,” said Ecker. “But during the course of this investigation, I found she was a beautiful person and a wonderful mother.”
Stacey Bellem, an author, educator and counselor who used to work at The Retreat, also spoke of the importance of education and awareness, and Sag Harbor resident Barbara Kinnier, a domestic violence survivor, offered a message of hope for other survivors of family violence.
“You think you are alone, you live in fear, in denial, and you don’t think it is so bad; and what I really want to impress on people is it is very progressive,” said Kinnier. “It starts as verbal and almost always becomes physical.”
Kinnier, whose brother saved her life in a domestic violence situation that resulted in the death of her first husband, said it was crucial the community speak about domestic violence rather than look the other way.
“I think that is what the message needs to be,” said Kinnier, noting a cycle of violence does not have to continue. “I have a message of hope. I have been very happily married for 22 years with three wonderful children and two grandchildren.”