Survivors of domestic abuse gathered at the Riverwalk Tuesday to share their stories of strength and courage in the face of terror - with hopes of raising awareness and finally ending the cycle of violence.

The candlelight vigil, in its 28th year, was sponsored by The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services, a program of BHCare, in honor of October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The vigil featured testimonials from survivors; singer Na’s performance of her song, It’ll Be Okay; and a reading of the names by the Rev. Lucille Fritz of Huntington Congregational Church of those who have died as a direct result of domestic violence.

“If even one person is inspired to make a difference, to come forward, to be honest with themselves and their loved ones and recognize that they are in an abusive situation or gain the courage to leave that situation and love themselves again, I have done my job,” said Colleen, one of the speakers.

Colleen detailed her years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of the man she fell in love with during her teens. She recounted her horror of being stalked, living in constant fear and having him threaten her life on numerous occasions after their divorce.

“My goal is to work with those who are suffering through domestic violence,” said Colleen, who during this ordeal obtained her master’s degree and is continuing her schooling to this day. “If anything at all came from this, I know what I want to do. Heart is whole again, and I found new love.”

Colleen was joined by fellow survivors Jennifer, who read a poem recounting her own terrifying experience and the blessing of finally being free, and Yessica, a mother and business owner.

“For 28 years, we have gathered in the Valley to commemorate domestic violence awareness month,” said Esperina Stubblefield, director, UCDVS, “and to remember those who lost lives, to celebrate those who survived and to honor men and women who passionately dedicate time to support those affected by domestic violence and bring an end to it once and for all.”

Stubblefield said that one in four women and one in seven men will suffer from abuse in their lifetime, with domestic violence still being the most common yet least reported crimes in the world.

“It permeates every area of society,” added Stubblefield. “But it is something we can put an end to. I am inspired by all of you who have joined us tonight. Together, we can bring an end to the epidemic by caring for victims, giving them hope and safety and the hope for a happy future.”

Among the guests was Mayor Mark Lauretti and Shelton Police Chief Shawn Sequeira.

“Dometic violence knows no boundaries and goes into a lot of places you wouldn’t expect, so by gathering here tonight, and every year, we continue to call attention to it,” said Lauretti, “and give people hope that there are other people out there who understand and are trying to eradicate something so bad.”

Lauretti said The Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services will continue to receive the city’s financial support.

The vigil also was a chance to honor law enforcement. According to UCDVS stats, one in seven women and one in 18 men are stalked, and felt like their lives were in danger, by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One in 15 children are exposed to this violence, and 90 percent are witnesses. The presence of gun in the home, according to UCDVS, increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent.

Police are the first responders to these incidents, and according to UCDVS, 22 percent of in the line of duty officer deaths in the nation contributed to those responding to domestic violence reports.

“I am happy to help recognize the police officers who will be honored for their acts of courage and kindness,” said Lauretti. “Many people say ‘this is what police are supposed to do,’ but you know that small act of kindness that goes to a victim goes a long way in a time of need. That special effort that police officers have to put in and continue to put in go unrecognized at times. I applaud these officers.”

The event concluded with the reading of the names as the candles were lit by those in the crowd.

“I was the one in four that was physically, mental and sexually abused for seven years by someone I thought I loved,” said Yessica, her eyes filled with tears as she told her story of survival.

Yessica considered suicide as her escape, when she suddenly learned she was pregnant with her daughter - that was when she chose to break the cycle.

“Thanks to BH Care and The Umbrella Center, I was able to find myself again,” said Yessica. “I was able to pick up my life and rebuild it for my daughter. If not for BHCare and my daughter, I don’t think I would be here today.

"I was given a chance to talk to (my daughter) about this. God chose me to be her mother for a reason and God knows why I am here today — and that is to break the silence.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com