Rosemarie Reilly repeatedly begged police for help in the month leading up to her death. Her ex-boyfriend, Jeremy Kelley, had beaten her and held a gun to her head, then started following her, she told them, but police didn’t take him into custody. Nine days after an arrest warrant was issued, Kelley tracked Reilly down at a friend’s house. In the middle of the night, he dragged her into the street by her hair and shot her multiple times in the torso before killing himself. The 21-year-old Michigan nursing student died at the scene.
Two years later, Reilly’s mother is demanding that law enforcement take responsibility for her daughter’s death and alleging in a lawsuit that they went easy on Kelley because his father was a cop. Pamela Reilly, 55, who filed a lawsuit against Michigan’s Ottawa County and several members of local police forces Oct. 5, told BuzzFeed News that the lack of urgency police showed in response to her daughter’s pleas for help led to her murder.
Because Kelley, who was also 21, had violated a restraining order taken out against him, under Michigan law he could have been forced by a court to relinquish his guns. But when Reilly and her family asked police to intervene by arresting him and taking away his guns, “they blew it off as a girlfriend–boyfriend spat,” her mother said.
“They looked at the victim as a complainer, they looked at the victim’s mother as a complainer.”
“If I walked up to a stranger on the street and I held a gun to their head and said, ‘I’m gonna kill you,’ they would’ve hunted me down,” she said. “They looked at the victim as a complainer, they looked at the victim’s mother as a complainer. They didn’t look at the victim that had a gun held to her head.”
The lawsuit argues that Kelley was treated favorably because his father — who has since died — was an officer in Bloomfield Township, a department on the other side of the state from Grand Rapids, where Reilly lived while attending nearby Grand Valley State University. Weeks after Reilly first made her reports, the Grand Valley State University Police Department and the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office issued arrest warrants, which, according to the lawsuit, they sent to Kelley by mail. Within days, Reilly was dead.
“I want to make America aware, this does happen, and it needs to be stopped,” Pamela said.
In a statement, the university called the situation “tragic,” saying, “We express our ongoing condolences to the family of Rosemarie Reilly. Officers of the Grand Valley State Police Department comply with applicable law, and we have no reason to believe they did not do so in this circumstance.” Bloomfield police and the Ottawa County sheriff’s department did not respond to requests for comment.
The Michigan lawsuit was filed weeks before a similar shooting death in Utah that highlighted the weaknesses of anti-stalking legislation, which has only been in effect in most states since the 1990s.
In Utah, 21-year-old university senior Lauren McCluskey was shot dead allegedly by her ex-boyfriend on Oct. 22, shortly after breaking up with him. Like Kelley, the ex, 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, was legally forbidden from having a gun and was harassing McCluskey to the point that she filed complaints with campus police. In both cases, the women were students and the men were not. In both cases, the women had alerted police that their ex-boyfriends were harassing or stalking them, though it’s unclear if McCluskey had sought a restraining order. University police have said Rowland was threatening McCluskey with financial and reputational damage, but authorities did not see him as a safety threat. Like Kelley, Rowland shot himself to death.
Pamela Reilly can’t bring herself to read anything about the other young woman who was murdered. “It hits me so hard because I know what that family is going through,” she said.
Stalking — a pattern of harassing behavior that leads to reasonable fear in the victim — first gained widespread attention from lawmakers in 1989, when 21-year-old actor Rebecca Schaeffer was shot to death in Los Angeles by a man who’d stalked her for years. California passed the first anti-stalking legislation in 1990, and by 1992, 27 states had passed similar laws; it is now illegal in all 50 states.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 15.2% of women and 5.7% of men are stalked in their lifetimes, and that women ages 18–24 have the highest rates of victimization. It’s a crime that can escalate: Women who are the victims of murder or attempted murder by an intimate partner are highly likely to have also been stalked.
Women who are the victims of murder or attempted murder by an intimate partner are highly likely to have also been stalked.
And yet the police response to stalking is uneven. In a 2006 survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 30% of stalking victims who didn’t report the crime to police said they believed law enforcement couldn’t or wouldn’t help. Notably, the same survey found that almost 20% of victims who did report stalking to police said law enforcement took no action after the most recent report. Only 7.7% said their stalker was arrested.
That lack of follow-through extends to university campuses, where domestic violence and stalking cases rarely lead to expulsions. Data drawn from 218 colleges between 2009 and 2016, obtained by BuzzFeed News from the US Department of Justice through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that there were 563 reprimands of students for domestic and dating violence cases, but just 94 expulsions. In stalking cases, colleges handed out some sort of sanction at least 270 times, but issued 48 expulsions. Between 2010 and 2016, Grand Valley State University documented at least four stalking cases, one of which resulted in a suspension.
Reilly’s story exposes an oversight in federal law — and the law of most states. The Gun Control Act prohibits people convicted of domestic violence offenses, including subjects of certain domestic violence restraining orders, from either purchasing or possessing firearms. However, it doesn’t explicitly require law enforcement to confiscate guns that domestic violence perpetrators already own. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, only four states have laws that explicitly authorize or require police to remove guns and/or ammunition from the subjects of domestic violence protective orders: Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Illinois.
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