A West Tisbury woman last week killed her husband in what law enforcement officials have determined was an act of self-defense, with the incident shaking the Island community and calling into focus domestic abuse issues and resources on-Island.
The morning of March 23 Cynthia C. Bloomquist, 63, allegedly shot and killed her estranged husband, Kenneth R. Bloomquist, 64, after he broke into her home and shot her. The district attorney ruled the incident a homicide during an act of self-defense.
Mrs. Bloomquist sustained gunshot wounds in the torso, and was taken to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. On Thursday evening, her lawyer said she had been released from the hospital and is continuing her recovery.
Cape and Islands district attorney Michael O’Keefe said that the medical examiner found the cause of death for Mr. Bloomquist was gunshot wounds to the chest sustained while assaulting his wife with a shotgun. She will not be charged in the shooting, Mr. O’Keefe said.
About three weeks prior to the incident, officials said, Mrs. Bloomquist had sought a restraining order against her husband; the two were separated. Her request, made to an on-call judge after court hours, was denied.
According to Mrs. Bloomquist’s lawyer, Sean E. Murphy, Mr. Bloomquist broke into the locked home at 19 Skiffs Lane Friday morning and shot Mrs. Bloomquist with a shotgun that he had brought with him. He then produced a handgun and attempted to shoot her with it, the lawyer said in a statement, and during a “violent struggle” for the handgun, it discharged, hitting Mr. Bloomquist.
The statement said that Mrs. Bloomquist did not have any firearms in the home.
West Tisbury police were dispatched to the home at 7:48 a.m., responding to a 911 call placed by Mrs. Bloomquist, police said. A team of four officers went into the house and found both people upstairs. Two ambulances were called to the scene and the Island’s Tactical Response Team was also asked to respond.
Police said they found Mrs. Bloomquist in an upstairs bedroom with gunshot wounds to her torso, while Mr. Bloomquist was found deceased inside the house.
Mr. Bloomquist was living off-Island. He is listed as a partner in Harvard Images, an aerial photography company based in Harvard, Mass.
Until her retirement in June 2010, Mrs. Bloomquist had worked for 40 years at her alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as senior associate director of corporate relations, according to MIT spokeswoman Kimberly Allen. Mrs. Bloomquist earned a bachelor of science in earth and planetary science at the school in June 1970, according to Ms. Allen.
Mrs. Bloomquist also sang with the Meridian Singers, an MIT a capella chorus.
According to the town assessor’s database, the couple purchased the West Tisbury property, which is at the top of Skiffs Lane, near Old County road, in 1981.
The West Tisbury board of selectmen started their Wednesday meeting with brief comments about the incident.
“I just want to offer thanks and appreciation to the police department for the good job and the difficult job they did last Friday morning during those tragic events over on Skiffs Lane. We’re lucky to have a professional police department such as we do to deal with these highly unusual and hopefully very, very, very infrequent kinds of things,” said selectman Richard Knabel.
According to West Tisbury police Sgt. Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd, Mrs. Bloomquist came to the West Tisbury police station after court hours on March 1 to request a restraining order against her husband.
The appropriate paper work was filled out, Mr. Manter said, but the on-call judge, Superior Court Judge Robert Kane, denied issuing the order.
Through a spokeswoman from the supreme judicial court, Mr. Kane declined to comment on the case, but the court issued a statement.
“Judge Kane was serving as an emergency response judge,” read the statement from Joan Kenney with the court’s public information office. “When judges serve on the Judicial Response System, they are on call nights and weekends when the courts are closed to handle legal emergencies, such as petitions for restraining orders. When a restraining order is allowed by a judge, the order is in effect only until the end of the next court business day. The petitioner can then ask the court for an extended restraining order, but both parties are requested to attend the hearing.”
Those seeking court protection can apply for a restraining order that applies to family members or those with whom they have a substantial dating relationship, live, or share a child. A similar harassment prevention order applies to anyone else who may be harassing the applicant.
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Edmonds, chief of the domestic violence unit at the district attorney’s office, said that for an emergency restraining order to be granted, the plaintiff has to show “by a preponderance of evidence” that there is a “substantial likelihood of immediate danger of abuse.”
That standard is determined by actual threats or a history of physical abuse, she said.
For temporary restraining orders, state statute requires the immediate suspension of a license to carry guns or the surrender to the police of all firearms, she said. At the later, two-party hearing for the restraining order, she said, the judge would decide whether to return firearms based on whether the “return presents likelihood of abuse to plaintiff.”
Ms. Edmonds said that in her experience, “the relationship very rarely starts out with any kind of violence,” and violence often escalates over months and years.
An abusive situation usually involves other factors, she said, including isolation of the victim and emotional abuse. The district attorney’s office has recently created a High Risk Task Force, she said, which will train police officers to do risk assessments based on research from past domestic violence cases that ended in violence.
About two per cent of cases are high risk, she said.
Ms. Edmonds listed abuse risk factors including escalations in violence, a history of abuse, extreme isolation of the victim, access to weapons, prior strangulation events, unemployment, and separation or divorce. Extreme jealousy is a key issue, she said.
The task force has started on the Cape, she said, and will soon expand to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
“Domestic violence can happen anywhere and it can happen to anyone,” said Christina Costello, program director of CONNECT to End Violence at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. Last Friday’s event was “shocking to our community because the extreme level of violence in this situation isn’t common for our island,” she said.
The CONNECT program is the only domestic violence and rape crisis center on the Island, Ms. Costello said, providing counseling as well as advocacy and support during court dates and hospital visits. Besides Ms. Costello, the center has three domestic violence counselors, and a 24-hour hot line is available at 508-696-7233.
The center had 274 clients in 2010 and 255 in 2011, she said. Thus far in 2012, she said, the center has seen 21 clients.
In 2010, the Edgartown District and probate court issued 105 restraining orders and harassment prevention orders, she said, with the CONNECT program counting 66 of the applicants as clients. In 2011, that number was up to 149, with 74 of the individuals clients.
This year to date, CONNECT has helped 14 people with restraining or harassment orders, with one application being denied. “It’s really dependent on information written on that affidavit, what the client tells the judge, and how the judge interprets the law,” she said.
If an emergency court order is denied, “we will always encourage our clients to go back,” she said.
For those denied restraining orders, Ms. Costello said, “We will try to encourage them to continue to reach out for their options,” like community services and the victim/witness advocate at the courthouse.
“I wouldn’t say [issuing a restraining order] would completely deter from this unfortunate circumstance happening,” she said, speaking about the West Tisbury shooting. While court orders are “designed to be a safety net,” they only work if the alleged perpetrator takes them seriously.
“Had the on-call judge issued this order, would it have stopped this individual? I’m not sure,” she said. In this case, “the victim was very fortunate and very lucky to be alive today.”