Rural communities underserved in domestic violence resources

Organizations try and help, but there’s not enough funding available.

SAN ANTONIO – In San Antonio, there are abundant resources for victims of domestic violence, but in rural areas, that’s a different story. Those differences were highlighted on Sunday in Pearsall after a woman was shot and killed by her ex-partner.

“The laughs, the struggles, the arguments between sisters. The fights, everything,” Marisa Gonzales and Monica Ortega said. “Nobody can take that away from us. And now all we have is memories.”

They reminisced about their baby sister, 36-year-old Melissa Escobar.

“He shot her first in the cheek, and she didn’t take it, didn’t take her down, then he shot her. He shot in the shoulder blade. It didn’t take her down. The third charge shot was between her breasts,” Ortega said.

Escobar was shot and killed Sunday in Pearsall, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend and father of one of her children, Fabian Garza.

Garza then led police on a chase and in several standoffs before taking his own life.

“All the time that she was with him, it was nothing but abuse,” Gonzales said.

Escobar’s story, though tragic, is not unique.

“It happens everywhere. It doesn’t discriminate,” said Elda Garcia, executive director of Southwest Family Life Center (SFLC).

SFLC is a nonprofit organization that provides resources for rural domestic violence survivors.

“We’re still struggling to meet the needs of our clients,” Garcia said.

They serve the areas of Medina, Kinney, Uvalde, Real and Frio counties with only eight employees.

KSAT asked Garcia if there were enough resources. She shook her head and said, “No, there’s not.”

In Pearsall, where Escobar was killed, there’s an outreach office but no women’s or domestic violence shelter. The nearest is in Hondo.

“Law enforcement companies or agencies. They do the best that they can with the resources that they have,” Garcia said.

Garcia says the organization has received additional funding to help more victims during the pandemic.

“But after that, we’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.

A candlelight vigil was held in Pearsall on Wednesday night. Escobar’s loved ones wished she could have been saved from her abuser.

“My sister suffered a lot. She suffered a lot and in the hands of this man who she thought loved her,” Gonzales said.

In 2020, the Texas Council on Family Violence put out a report that showed there was a 23% increase in the lives lost by domestic violence. Since 2016, the five counties the SFLC covers have always had a name included on that list.

While they don’t have the resources San Antonio has, Garcia says they are there to answer questions on calls and provide as much help as possible. The number for their 24/7 hotline is (830)426-5972.

The City of Pearsall provided a list of resources survivors of domestic violence can use:

  • Southwest Family Centers located at 650 E.E. San Antonio, Pearsall, Texas, 78061.
  • VineLink, “the nation’s leading victim notification network. It allows survivors, victims of crime, and other concerned citizens to access timely and reliable information about offenders or criminal cases in U.S. jails and prisons.” Their number is 1-877-894-8463
  • National Hotline for Sexual Assaults can be reached at 1(512)474-7190.
  • Dial 211 to reach the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
  • Texas Youth Hotline, call or text 24/7, 1-800-898-YOUTH (6884).

About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.