It's January 2013, and local healthcare worker Russell Kellim is writing a sworn statement to a Humboldt County Superior Court judge who's considering issuing a domestic violence restraining order against him. Csilla Adam, the mother of Kellim's 5-week-old daughter, filed for the order a few weeks earlier, alleging that Kellim hit her on numerous occasions and was "manipulative, conning, controlling, aggressive, violent and possessive toward women." He was armed, too, Adam alleged, noting repeatedly in a sworn statement that she was afraid Kellim was going to "shoot me and leave me to die somewhere remote."
In response, Kellim tells the court he's never been abusive and that "each and every incident of domestic violence alleged by Mrs. Adam is the result of her mental health issues" and a product of her "distorted view of reality." He tells the court that he gave the only two guns he owns — a matte black .380 caliber Smith and Wesson and a nickel-plated .380 caliber Bersa, both handguns — to his adult daughter as Christmas gifts a month earlier. He finishes with an allegation that Adam is unfit to safely care for their daughter, and urges the court to grant an order giving him full custody of the infant and denying Adam any visitation rights.
Less than a week after Kellim files his reply, Adam withdraws the restraining order request.
A little more than two years later — on March 18 — five gunshots broke the pre-dawn quiet of a gated community in Fortuna. Police arrived at the two-story home with a manicured lawn and a wooded backyard to find Adam on the front porch bleeding from four gunshot wounds, and Kellim dead of a single self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Officers found the ex-couple's now 2-year-old daughter buckled safely in the backseat of a Mustang convertible parked in the driveway, and a pair of .380 caliber handguns next to Kellim's body.
The case thrust the issue of domestic violence into the spotlight in Humboldt County, where rates of reported instances of domestic violence are about 25 percent higher than the state average.
According to statistics from the California Department of Justice, there were 768 calls to local police in 2013 (the last year statistics are available) reporting domestic violence, which equates to about 5 calls for every 1,000 county residents. Over the 10-year-period ending in 2013, the county averaged 6 such calls annually per 1,000 residents. Statewide, the average over that same period is about 4 calls per 1,000 residents. A study by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that one in four women have experienced "severe physical violence" at the hands of an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
The national statistics are also chilling. In 2009, 35 percent of all female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner, according to a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. A report by the Bureau of Justice found that, on average, three women are killed every day in the United States by a current or former intimate partner and that, in 2009, 26 percent of violent crimes against women were carried out by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend.
The impacts of the national domestic violence epidemic are broad, according to a study by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, which found that intimate partner violence costs the nation more than $5.8 billion annually, including $4.1 billion in healthcare costs alone. The survey also found that U.S. employers as a whole lose about $13 billion annually to domestic violence due to absences and lost productivity and that as many as 57 percent of homeless women cited domestic violence as the reason they wound up on the streets.
Locally, domestic violence is such a problem that newly seated District Attorney Maggie Fleming made it the cornerstone of her campaign and, less than three months after taking office, her short-staffed office announced the hire of an investigator devoted solely to working such cases. An analysis of county jail booking records by Lost Coast Outpost Editor Hank Sims found that 7 percent of the county's arrests in 2013 were on suspicion of domestic violence and related charges.
And that's just what gets reported. Nationally, three out of four intimate partner assaults are never mentioned to police, according to a 2001 report by the National Institute of Justice.
Advocates maintain that most instances of domestic violence never come to the attention of police. Domestic violence is about power and control, they say, and perpetrators often use coercion, emotional abuse, intimidation, isolation and economic pressure to keep victims quiet.
Fortuna Police Chief Bill Dobberstein said investigators are still working to determine exactly what preceded the March 18 shootings, but likely won't have any real clarity until they can interview Adam, who — as of March 24 — was in stable condition at the UC Davis Medical Center, with two bullets still lodged in her body. Dobberstein said he spoke with Adam on March 23, but that the department won't formally interview her until she returns home.
So far, police have determined that Adam strapped her daughter into her car shortly before 6 a.m. on March 18 and headed to the gate of her Fortuna community, where she and Kellim had arranged for him to pick up the girl. The two had a shared custody arrangement in which each spent about half the week with their daughter. While court documents list the College of the Redwoods parking lot as the designated meeting area for the custody handoffs, Dobberstein said he believes they regularly met outside the gate near Adam's home.
Dobberstein said police found Kellim's car parked outside the gate, and believe he rode in Adam's Mustang back to her house, but it's unclear why. The chief said Adam's husband of 15 years, who was home at the time of the shooting, told police he heard a loud dispute on the doorstep of his and Adam's house shortly before 6 a.m., followed by a pair of gunshots, a brief pause, and two more. The husband then called 911. A last single gunshot rang out while he was talking to dispatch.
It appears only one of the handguns found near Kellim's body was fired, Dobberstein said, adding that police believe he shot Adam twice from about two feet away, waited a moment, then shot her twice more. After a longer pause, Dobberstein said, Kellim put the gun to his head and fired the final shot. It remains unclear if the two semi-automatic handguns found at the scene were those referenced in the restraining order paperwork and if they were legally registered to Kellim, Dobberstein said. The chief also said investigators haven't found a suicide note or anything indicating whether the shootings were premeditated.
Two years after it was written, a note attached to Adam's request for a restraining order in 2013 contains a chilling passage, scrawled in her looping mix of cursive and print. She wrote, "(Kellim) has verbally threatened my life by saying that if he ever killed his family he would kill himself as well."
3 - The average number of women killed every day in the United States by a current or former intimate partner
4 - The average number of domestic violence reports in California per 1,000 residents annually from 2004 through 2013
6 - The average number of domestic violence reports in Humboldt County per 1,000 residents annually from 2004 through 2013
25 - Percentage of women who have experienced "severe physical violence" at the hands of an intimate partner at some point in their lives
26 - Percentage of all violent crimes against women in 2009 in the U.S. that were carried out by a current or former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend
768 - Domestic violence reports to Humboldt County law enforcement in 2013
$5.8 billion - What intimate partner violence costs the nation annually, including $4.1 billion in health care costs
$13 billion - Amount U.S. employers lose annually to domestic violence due to absences and lost productivity
Humboldt Domestic Violence Services provides a 24-hour support line (443-6042) to offer confidential, emergency support services for people in or transitioning from domestic violence situations. For more information on the nonprofit and other services it provides, visit www.hdvs.org.
The Fortuna Police Department is urging anyone with information about the March 18 shootings to contact investigators at 725-7550.