‘It’s about keeping that line of communication open,’ advocate says
A former neighbor said she knew what happened as soon as she saw Regan Gibbs’ face on the news.
“Immediately I knew exactly who she was, and I feared exactly what I was about to read. Just as soon as I saw her picture, I knew what was going on. And it makes me so incredibly uncomfortable to know that.”
Gibbs, 25, was murdered on Monday. In a tearful press conference Friday morning, her mother implored the public to watch for warning signs of domestic abuse, and to be relentless about helping someone who might be in that type of situation.
The neighbor, who asked not to be named, said she had lived in a nearby building in the complex at 2500 W. Sixth St. last fall. She regularly saw Gibbs and Chad Marek, the man who has been charged with Gibbs’ murder, walking past.
During their exchanges, it appeared that Gibbs was trying to de-escalate a situation, but Marek never seemed to let her walk away, the neighbor said. She rarely saw Gibbs alone.
“At least half a dozen times I witnessed her leave the apartment, start walking down the road … and he would follow her every single time, just berating her,” the neighbor said.
On a couple of occasions, “She was trying to leave, and he was circling her, like taunting her as she was trying to obviously leave an uncomfortable situation. He just kept bouncing in circles around her like, ‘Come on, let’s go, let’s go. Just come on, come back.’”
What she saw and heard was troubling enough for her to call the police two separate times, but she didn’t know the names or apartment number of Gibbs and Marek, making it difficult for police to contact them.
“I think the main reason nothing ever happened or came of it was because by the time the police got there, they had already gone inside of their building,” she said. “I knew the outside door they went in, but I didn’t know what unit inside was theirs.”
The neighbor said police would drive through the parking lot, and seeing no indication of an altercation would leave the complex.
She said she wished somehow, something could be different.
“What I saw was creepy and f—ing mean. … It’s horrible. I wish that she could have found the resources that she needed.”
Marek had used Gibbs’ beliefs to pull her away from her family, her mother said.
“He manipulated her through her faith,” Gibbs’ mother said on Friday. “As we have all heard through domestic violence awareness campaigns, he slowly isolated her from people who expressed concern.
“I am sure that many people who’ve had a loved one involved in a similar situation can relate to the frustration of seeing it happening, feeling helpless, but never expecting this kind of tragic ending.”
Gibbs’ family lived in Arizona and only met Marek once — and even then, the control he had shown over Gibbs was evident, her mother said. Marek began to isolate Gibbs, and eventually the only contact the family had was periodic phone calls that Gibbs had to make from Marek’s phone, on speaker.
Megan Stuke, executive director of the Willow Domestic Violence Center, said there are a number of red flags that can help friends, family and neighbors better identify unsafe, potentially abusive relationships.
They include intimidation; emotional abuse; isolation; minimizing, denying and blaming; using children; using privilege; economic abuse; coercion and threats.
Unfortunately, potential advocates may not understand the depth or urgency of a situation if a victim doesn’t share enough information to paint a complete picture. Fear, embarrassment and shame can all cause someone to hide the truth of what’s happening.
“Those things are all, of course, red flags, but it’s hard to see them if you’re not allowed to see them,” Stuke said. “We have to be aware of power imbalances and how they affect people.”
Friends and family may become frustrated, Stuke said, if their attempts to help are repeatedly turned away by the victim. Advocates may stop making attempts when it appears that the victim isn’t willing to help themselves.
Stuke said isolation can be compounded when family and friends feel as though there’s nothing they can do, and it becomes difficult to watch a loved one suffer. At that point it is important simply to let the victim know that you are not walking away.
“It’s about keeping that line of communication open, even when it’s really tempting to walk away,” Stuke said. “You say, ‘I hear you. I’m here for you. I’m going to keep checking on you. I’m going to listen to you with no judgment.’
“It’s about staying in that neutral space — even though you’re feeling like you’re screaming inside — keeping the door open as much as possible.”
Stuke said it was important to build a record of incidents even if they seem minor in the moment. If police know there is a history of problems at a single location or with specific individuals, they have more information to work with when they are dispatched to a disturbance.
Establishing a pattern and reporting small crimes including trespassing, theft, property damage and verbal threats can create a window of time enabling a victim to escape.
“If the abuser breaks a plate, that’s something that you can go on,” Stuke said. “If they stole something, broke something, hid a phone — if they’ve done something that we can call petty theft it’s a start toward getting in the door because otherwise you don’t have a crime. How do you make a crime of being weird and emotionally manipulative?”
Both the Lawrence Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office now have domestic violence victims’ advocates on staff. They can help get a person to resources and assistance quickly, which can be important if an abuser has been arrested but can’t be held in custody for long.
Although Gibbs’ mother said the family had recognized some warning signs in the relationship, they were unable to get her free from Marek.
“Don’t ignore (the warning signs),” she said. “Please don’t ignore any of them. Go emphatically after that warning. Learn and study those signs, please.”
“… I hope and pray somebody is helped through this,” she said.
Get help in Lawrence
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
- Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
- Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
- National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.
File for an order of protection
In Kansas, victim-survivors of stalking and abuse can file for court orders of protection from abuse or stalking online. Visit kspop.org and follow the instructions on the website. The service is available for any county in Kansas.
Learn the warning signs
Read about warning signs of domestic violence and emotional abuse and learn how you can help at this link.