Tara DeLorme’s hands shook and tears occasionally rolled down her cheeks as she told the story of her friend’s murder to the Ocean County chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) as the group met at the county library on Sept. 10.
Despite the clear toll the telling takes on DeLorme, she vowed to tell Letizia “Lisa” Zindell’s story “again and again, until there are proactive protections in place” for victims of domestic violence.
DeLorme is the president and founder of Lisa’s Light Foundation, a nonprofit domestic-violence education organization formed in October 2009 to honor her friend’s memory. Zindell was found beaten and strangled in the backseat of her car in Toms River on Aug. 14, 2009. Her ex-fiance, who had repeatedly violated a restraining order, “was found shortly thereafter by police hanging in the detached garage of the residence they once shared,” DeLorme said.
“Police determined it was a murder-suicide. Lisa was 30 years old,” she told the group of women, who seemed to mirror DeLorme’s anguish as they heard the tale.
“Lisa’s death illuminated the dark cracks in the laws as they are now,” DeLorme told the dozen women, who met not just to learn about Lisa’s Light but also to see what they could do to help the organization.
DeLorme came to the NOW meeting not only to provide general information on her organization but also to discuss a proposed statewide domestic-violence law, which Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed on Jan. 17.
Known as “Lisa’s Law,” the measure, which unanimously passed both the state Senate and the Assembly, calls for repeat restraining-order violators to be electronically monitored with a system that would provide automatic alerts to both law enforcement officials and domestic violence victims when a restraining order is being violated.
A clearly frustrated DeLorme told the group that the legislation “was created responsibly, supported by the community and local law enforcement (and) was simply a pilot program to demonstrate it would be successful statewide.”
“The vote was unanimous and bipartisan. I truly believed at that time, that the governor would sign the bill into law within hours,” DeLorme said. Several days later, Christie conditionally vetoed the bill “citing questions of the technology’s viability and availability,” she explained.
The governor’s decision called for the Attorney General’s Office to complete a 120-day study regarding these issues. When DeLorme spoke on Sept. 10, more than 174 days had passed without the study being released.
DeLorme said she has contacted both the governor’s office and the Attorney General’s office and cannot get any additional information about this study. (The Attorney General’s Office also did not return calls regarding this story.)
“It is an insult to victims of domestic violence that there has been both inaction and a total disconnect by these offices. We already know the technology exists, we utilize it for both house arrests and high-level repeat sex offenders. We already know the system if viable, as it is utilized with a high success rate in many states,” DeLorme said.
“It’s difficult to get people to pay attention to women’s issues,” said NOW chapter president Helen E. Fitzsimmons of Beachwood, as chapter members bobbed their heads in agreement. “Here is a woman from Ocean County who was brutally murdered. Imagining her last minutes is horrible. This law would give the individual the power to react.”
“We will not continue to watch homicide after homicide and pretend nothing could be done to stop it. It is organizations such as yours that can help Lisa’s Law spring into action,” DeLorme said, urging NOW members to contact the governor’s office to “provide a voice for those who have been silenced.”
Before discussing the proposed law, DeLorme first spoke about her friend and her background. She told how Zindell was raised in Island Heights and earned high honors at Central Regional High School in Berkeley.
What several at the meeting found particularly unsettling is that Zindell was educated in social work and earned two master’s degrees, one in social work and another in criminal justice. She also worked for the Division of Youth and Family Services.
“As a social worker, Lisa knew the appropriate steps to take to protect herself….she changed her routine, made an effort not to go places alone and even left her home to stay with a friend,” DeLorme said.
“Here’s someone who knew exactly what to do and did everything she was supposed to. What hope does anyone else have?” questioned Gloria McCormack, of Beachwood.
DeLorme said Zindell “was adored by family, loved by friends and respected and admired by her colleagues. She had a light, a glow about her that left a lasting impression on everyone she met.
“The last weeks of Lisa’s life were a devastating reminder that domestic violence is an epidemic in our society that can affect any person at any time,” said DeLorme.
Noting that the NOW chapter has “a lot more members than you’ll ever see at a meeting,” founding member Lynda Fote of Toms River pledged to get the word out to the chapter’s email list, asking members to contact the governor as well as other officials and to write letters to the editor to local media outlets urging Christie to take additional action.
Fitzsimmons noted that the group is open to new members and works to support women’s issues.
“We are not looking for something with her name on it to make us feel better. We want to save lives,” DeLorme said. “In the time that we’ve been waiting, we’ve lost more people to domestic violence.”
Both Lisa’s Light Foundation and NOW Ocean County can be found on Facebook. To reach NOW chapter president Helen Fitzsimmons, email email@example.com
Those interested in contacting the governor can write to Office of the Governor, PO Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625 or call 609-292-6000.