Murder suspect remains at large

Domestic violence experts discuss warning signs

The assault happened almost exactly five years ago, on April 7, 2013.

According to Multnomah County, Oregon Circuit Court documents, this was when a man named Jose Fernandez, also known as Guillermo Juarez, attempted to harm his girlfriend, Luz Guitron, in front of the couple’s young son.

A grand jury indicted the man for second-degree attempted assault for using “a dangerous weapon,” fourth-degree felony assault for committing the act in the presence of a minor child, reckless endangerment and harassment. His bail was set at $24,000.

Nearly five years later, the victim from this 2013 domestic violence assault case — 35-year-old Luz Guitron-Lopez, a Camas mother of three school-aged children known for her culinary skills and cheerful presence at the Camas Farmers Market and annual Hometown Holidays celebration — is dead, the victim of homicidal violence, and Fernandez/Juarez, identified by police as their main suspect in her murder, is missing.

A Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office report released nearly one week after Guitron-Lopez’s murder, on March 21, showed that the Camas woman died from “multiple sharp force injuries.”

Camas community members who knew the murdered woman expressed shock and sadness in the weeks following Guitron-Lopez’s death, with many saying they never realized she was involved in an abusive relationship.

That’s not an uncommon reaction, says Caroline Bartlett, director of the Clark County YWCA’s SafeChoice Program, which advocates for and supports people affected by domestic violence in Clark County. In fact, many abusers often have a “Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde” personality, in which they show their gregarious, engaging and friendly face in public, while acting like a monster inside the privacy of their own home.

“We have this idea that abusers are all felons, lower-class … but that’s not the case. Sometimes they’re a community member we’re engaging with on a regular basis,” Bartlett says. “Domestic violence is about power and control. Rarely will anyone (outside of the immediate family) know what’s going on, because (abusers) only show that face in the home.”

Common warning signs and safety planning

There are, however, warning signs of domestic violence.

“For friends and family, it’s important to note that domestic violence is abusive behavior that has a controlling nature and a pattern,” Bartlett says. “So, there are some common warning signs.”

These “red flags” may or may not include actual threats of violence, Bartlett adds: “What we commonly see is verbal, emotional abuse — gaslighting, or the idea of ‘crazy-making,’ when the abuser does things to make (their partner) start to question their own sanity.”

Bartlett says she’s worked with people whose abusive partners would do little things like hiding keys in the refrigerator to make their victim feel as if they’re losing their mind after they spend time hunting for the lost keys — only to find them in a place they can’t remember leaving them. The result of gaslighting is that a person starts to question their own judgment and “gut instinct,” leaving them even more vulnerable to a controlling and manipulative abuser.

Other common warning signs include sexual violence; financial control — possibly sabotaging someone’s credit, job or rental history; reproductive coercion — perhaps destroying birth control or forcing an abortion; and isolating the person from their support networks.

All of these things give the abuser even more control over their partner, Bartlett says.

Survivors of domestic violence also may exhibit some common signs that family and friends should watch out for.

“They may not be able to get together anymore,” Bartlett says of domestic violence survivors. “It may seem like they always have an excuse for why they’re not available anymore.”

This is because their abuser may be trying to isolate them — to gain control and power — by poisoning their victim against their friends and family.

“They may be hypervigilant about needing to be home at a certain time, or defensive about their partner,” Bartlett says. “Or maybe you notice that their partner is checking up on them (the survivor) a lot. Maybe (the abuser) is disguising it as concern, calling them at work all the time or monitoring their behavior.”

Abusers will try to manipulate the relationship to gain control, and to make their victim more and more dependent. For example, Bartlett says, it is not uncommon to see abusers play a hand in getting their victim fired from their job, or even to see the abuser become the primary childcare provider while their abused partner is at work.

“If you depend on them financially, or to take care of the children, it becomes more difficult to leave,” Bartlett explains.

Not always simple to ‘just leave’ relationship

Of course, leaving an abusive relationship comes with its own set of dangers.

According to domestic violence statistics, an abuser is much more likely to escalate their abuse, even becoming violent, when they fear they’re losing control of their victim.

One of the most important things concerned family and friends can do for someone they love, who is considering leaving their abuser, is to help them find an advocate well-versed in safety planning and domestic violence.

SafeChoice offers safety planning services, is gender inclusive, with LGBTQ services and has several staff members who are multilingual. The organization also runs an emergency shelter for survivors and their children, but with only 10 rooms (one room per family), Bartlett says there are far more domestic violence survivors in need of emergency shelter than there are beds available.

Other county services include the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s Pathways to Healing program, which operates out of the tribe’s Vancouver office and provides advocates and crisis support to Native Americans and Alaskan Natives involved in domestic violence situations.

Bartlett says many family members get frustrated by the fact that their loved one refuses to leave an abusive relationship, or returns to an abusive partner.

“There are so many reasons why people stay,” Bartlett says. “And it’s complicated because they may have children … and they may really love this person. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand — that even though this person tears you down and really hurts you, your relationship isn’t all ugly and you will have some wonderful, beautiful parts of the relationship that you cherish. The family dynamics involved in this are very complicated.”

Often, it is safer for a survivor to stay with their abusive partner than it is to leave, Bartlett adds. “Sometimes, it’s just easier to return than to deal with the harassment when you leave. Sometimes, it looks like this person is making a choice (to return) when they really have no choice.”

Clark County domestic violence advocates have noticed a drop in immigrants reporting abuse over the past year, Bartlett adds, and may fear reprisal from the federal government if they are undocumented — which, of course, puts them at greater risk if they feel unable to seek help.

“Statistically, the number of calls from primarily Spanish-speaking (survivors or concerned family members) have dropped way, way down,” Bartlett says.

It may seem hopeless when you know someone is staying in an abusive relationship, but Bartlett says there is one thing family and friends can do to help.

“Families and friends need to know that isolation is so common in domestic violence. Don’t give in to the abuser’s attempt to isolate. Make sure you stand by your family member or friend,” Bartlett says.

This isn’t always easy, she adds, especially when a survivor has become defensive about their relationship or abuser.

“It can be devastating to watch your loved one go through this. It can be really hard on family and friends,” Bartlett says. “Just remember: It is likely that their partner has told them no one loves them, that their family has abandoned them. Let them know this isn’t true. Let them know you love them and are there for them.”