The underlying message at the fourth annual Be One with Courage family violence conference held Friday in Killeen was made clear by Fort Hood’s commander.
“We have to hear their voices,” said Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr.
The event’s goal was to create greater community awareness and response by exposing everyone from law enforcement officers to teachers, family members and neighbors to the symptoms of domestic violence, and encouraging them to act upon their suspicions, said assistant Bell County Attorney Anne Jackson, who specializes in domestic violence and helped organize the event.
To bring the message home, attendees spent the morning listening to a case study of a domestic violence homicide that took place in Salado in 2009.
Speakers brought forward the story of 50-year-old Lou Tretter, who was killed by her husband Donald Tretter following an assault at their home on Oct. 18, 2009. Lou Tretter’s death showed the worst case scenario when dealing with domestic violence. The couple were long married, and outwardly appeared to be happy.
Lou Tretter’s daughter, Shay Eubanks, told the audience that she considered her stepfather Don Tretter to be her father. He had helped raise her and she had no suspicions that he was ever abusive.
“On the outside they were happy and doting,” Eubanks said. “In hindsight, he was controlling.”
Only after police found Lou Tretter with severe injuries to her skull and brain that ultimately led to her death in November 2009, did the possibility of his abuse emerge.
In the case study, Eubanks, along with forensic nurses, the lead investigator and prosecuting attorneys, provided a narrative of how they were able to piece together details that led police to charge Don Tretter with murder and the evidence that led to his conviction and sentence to 40 years in prison.
The case suffered an early misstep, when a paramedic called off responding sheriff’s deputies because he did not want to alarm Don Tretter. It allowed him to return to his home and begin cleaning up what essentially became a crime scene for nearly two hours before police secured the area.
But the case’s strengths rested on the medical personnel who worked with Lou Tretter. The initial paramedic purposely called police off because he already had suspicions that Lou Tretter’s injuries were the result of an assault.
Emergency responders who airlifted her to Scott & White Hospital also became suspicious of the origins of her injuries, and nurses in the Intensive Care Unit outwardly grew angry after treating her.
Throughout the investigation, Donald Tretter gave varying stories on the origin of his wife’s injuries. He told investigators she had a seizure and fell or that she must have rolled off the couch while asleep.
Nurses, doctors and a medical examiner refuted those stories with their extensive knowledge of the injuries, noting that the trauma to Lou Tretter’s head was consistent with a high-speed car wreck or falling from a second-story balcony.
Bell County Sheriff’s Office investigator James Lewing discovered during the investigation that police had been out to the Tretter’s home five times before the death. To Eubanks, the revelation made her recall bruises she had seen on her mother in the past and the questions she never asked.
Eubanks said she wished she had taken the risk of disrupting her relationship with her mother and step-father by asking those questions. It left her with the lingering question whether an intervention could have saved her mother.
“That’s something I’ll never know,” Eubanks said.