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Family of Waterloo victim claims mothers calls for help were mishandled

Lori McConnell (Family-provided photo)

The family of a Waterloo woman killed in a triple shooting last week is seeking answers.

Matthew VanDoren and his sister, Lori Bennett, say their mother called a domestic violence resource center for help to get away from suspect Emerson Tohafjan the day before he allegedly killed her.

But the family says her call for help was mishandled.

VanDoren and Bennett say their mother lived in fear of Tohafjian, and had been calling Safe Harbors to find a safe place to stay.

“She wanted help from them, and needed a place to go. They said they could help with a hotel,” said Bennett.

It's been a grueling week for VanDoren and Bennett as they question how their mother was unable to find safety from Emerson Tohafjan.

“We are going to seek justice against those agencies, and police and the judge for our mother,” VanDoren said.

They say McConnell had been trying to get away from Tohafjan since May, calling Safe Harbors for guidance.

“They wouldn't help her get an apartment. What about deposit to come up with first months rent? All answers were, ‘I don't know,” added VanDoren.

They say McConnell called Safe Harbors one last time Monday evening looking for a place to stay, but they claim she was turned away by the hotel and apartments the organization recommended.

The next day, McConnell was shot and killed.

Due to confidentiality policies, Marisa Rube at Safe Harbors can't say exactly what happened with McConnell's calls.

“I can't speak to whether there was, whether that call even came in,” said Rube. “But our advocates are trained, if they don't know something, to reach out to a supervisor, and we'll get the answer,” said Rube.

She says their staff takes calls on the crisis hotline around the clock.

“Our advocates work diligently to try and find safety. Ultimately, it is up to each person that comes to us to decide what the best options are for them," said Rube.

Still, Rube says the system isn't perfect. There are no shelters in town, and that can be a problem for victims like McConnell who can't leave the area.

As she tries to find answers, she has a message for McConnell's family.

“I'm so sorry that this happened to you. It affects us in ways that people don't know, because we work with victims day in and day out. So whether or not we had personal contact with the person, the person was killed in our service area. That is very difficult, and our hearts go out to her children, and the rest of her family and friends.”

Rube says Safe Harbors are reviewing McConnell's calls to see if there is something to improve.

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