Family claims domestic violence involved in Petersburg fire case - NBC12 - Richmond, VA News

Family claims domestic violence involved in Petersburg fire victims' case

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PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) -

The family of the Petersburg victims found dead in a burned out home is sharing graphic photos of an alleged beating by the man police are now looking for. It's been four days and still no sign of Alexander Hill Junior, who police say is a person of interest in the case.

A surviving relative says Hill abused her and she even got a protective order against him.

"Why?" That's the biggest question loved ones are asking right now. Records indicate the family members were victims of domestic violence before their deaths. Experts say there's always help but it's not easy.

"This can't happen to another woman," Vivian Chavis said just after she lost her mother, sister, niece and nephew in one instant. Family members identify the victims as 67-year-old Pauline Wilkins, her daughter 46-year-old Vicki Ansar, Ansar's daughter 22-year-old Tanique Chavis and Chavis' son two-year-old Delvari.

Vivian's family decided to share photos showing the abuse she suffered allegedly at the hands of Hill.  The photos show her eye was bloodied.

Councilman Howard Myers promises change. "If you're in a domestic violence file, I asked the lawmakers to help create a law to help protect these women," he said.

Court records show there is history of violence with Hill.

"On average it takes someone in a violent relationship seven to eight attempts to leave before they actually leave," says Kiffy Werkheiser. She works for The James House, the largest non- profit serving domestic violence victims in the Tri-Cities area. She can't comment specifically about this case but offers insight on what victims can do.

"Behaviors like text messages that are constant or constant phone calls, those are all red flags," she said. "There are trained professionals who can help you put together a realistic safety plan and provide you all kinds of services that can help you escape."

There were complaints filed by Chavis which date back to December. She describes the threatening phone calls saying, "He calls and said...I know where you and your kids live. I will lay you all down.  I know where your mother live." There is a preliminary protective order, but it took two weeks for a judge to sign it. According to the court papers, it was requested on April 7, but was signed by a judge on April 21; two days after the fire.

NBC12 legal analyst Steve Benjamin says that's unusual, but this could indicate there were other circumstances we just don't know about.

The biggest question now: could more have been done?

"These types of tragedies are preventable, but it's really only the perpetrator that can prevent them," says Werkheiser.

The FBI is now assisting Petersburg Police in the search for Hill.

A vigil will be held on Thursday for the victims. It will be at the home on Harding Street at 6pm. The funeral is scheduled for Saturday. A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, April 26 at 1 p.m. at the Metropolitan Baptist Church located at 1021 Halifax Street, Petersburg.

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