ELLSWORTH, Maine — The death of Hilary Saenz, 29, on Christmas Day, has prompted an outpouring of grief not only from friends and family, but also from people who only recognized her by face and others who did not know her at all.
“Everybody is just sort of speechless,” said Sally Cook, who lived across the street from the Saenz family and often spent time with her two children. “You just can’t think about anything else.”
To help the community cope with her death, a candlelight vigil has been scheduled for Saenz beginning at 4:30 p.m. Sunday outside City Hall in Ellsworth. Candles and purple ribbons in honor of victims of domestic violence will be distributed at the vigil, though attendees are encouraged to bring their own candles if they have them.
Saenz died of blunt force trauma on Dec. 25, according to Bill Harwood of the Maine State Police. Saenz’s two children, a boy and a girl ages 8 and 12 respectively, went to a neighbor’s home that day to report that their mother wasn’t waking up. Saenz’s husband, Christopher Saenz, 30, was charged two days later with murder in connection with his wife’s death and is being held without bail at the Hancock County Jail.
Court documents revealed that at the time of her death, Hilary Saenz had bruises at varying stages of healing all over her body and that police had been called to the Saenz home in mid-December after Christopher Saenz allegedly assaulted his wife and threatened to kill her.
“She was kind and beautiful inside and out,” said Kim Grindle, a close friend of Saenz who worked with her at Walmart. “She was always giving, always thinking of anyone else first.”
Grindle said she knew Saenz’s relationship with her husband wasn’t perfect but she said she did not know the extent of it. Saenz always asked how Grindle was doing, and rarely shared problems in her own life, Grindle said.
In addition to her job at Walmart, Saenz had recently been certified as a nursing assistant and had been working at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
“She was so proud of that,” Grindle said.
Grindle helped organize Sunday’s candlelight vigil. A Facebook page set up for the event showed on Friday afternoon that 327 people planned to attend.
Jennifer Robidoux, another vigil organizer, said, “Our main focus is to show her family that she’s loved and supported by the community but also that we’re not going to stand for domestic violence.”
Robidoux said she only interacted with Saenz a few times when Saenz and her husband bought cars from Jim’s Used Cars and Auto Repair where Robidoux works. However, she and other local residents said they felt compelled to respond because of the effect Saenz’s death is having on their community.
“I think there’s been a lot of emotion in the community around this,” said Denise Black, another of the vigil’s organizers. Black said she did not know Saenz, but had seen her face countless times and felt compelled to honor her in some way.
“I think the community feels powerless,” she said.
“I think people know this is happening in our community,” she added, referring to domestic violence. “I think a lot of people aren’t sure how to handle it.”
That’s why Black and other organizers have called on Next Step, a nonprofit that supports victims of domestic violence, to speak at the vigil.
Advocates from the Aroostook Mental Health Center Sexual Assault Services also will attend the event, according to Nina Milliken, the community educator at AMHC sexual assault services.
“Unfortunately, this type of violence is not uncommon and is completely preventable,” said Milliken in a prepared statement. “We want to remind people that there are several free resources available to them should they be experiencing domestic or sexual violence.”
Both Next Step and AMHC Sexual Assault Services have free, confidential hotlines where anyone can receive information or support on domestic violence related issues.
If Saenz is convicted of murder, it will stand as Maine’s 24th homicide of 2013 and 11th domestic violence-related homicide, Harwood said.
Since her death, a Facebook page (separate from the vigil page) has been set up in her memory. The page had 2,665 likes on Friday afternoon and hundreds of comments from close friends and strangers alike.
“I may have not said it so I will say it now, Hilary you made me proud and I love you sis!” said one comment.
“Watch down upon us and keep us safe,” the message continued. “And we will keep this awareness going.”
The comment ended, “love Chance,” which is the name of her brother.
Three different funds have been set up to support Saenz’s children.
Cook and another neighbor have created an account, which will eventually be given to Saenz’s father, who Cook said is now caring for her two children. The money is meant to help with immediate needs such as school supplies, groceries or even summer camp. Those who wish to contribute to the account should make checks out to “Children of Hilary Saenz” and send them to the Camden National Bank at 66 Main St., Suite 101, Ellsworth, ME 04605.
Another account has been set up online by Megan Covel, a friend of Saenz. Contributions can be made at www.gofundme.com/5xokc4.
According to Saenz’s obituary, contributions to the children also can be sent to the Five County Credit Union at P.O. Box 598, Bath, ME.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.