ELLSWORTH, Maine — A crowd of a few hundred people braved freezing temperatures and gathered at an outdoor candlelight vigil Sunday night to remember an Ellsworth woman who was found slain on Christmas Day and call attention to domestic violence.
“The horrible tragedy that took place in this community affected every one of us,” said Rebecca Hobbs, executive director of Next Step, an organization that combats domestic violence in Hancock and Washington counties.
She called the vigil, held under a darkening night sky behind City Hall with temperatures in the low 20s, an event to “remember and honor victims … of domestic violence.” About 200 people, many of them holding candles, huddled to remember and reflect on Hilary Saenz for about 45 minutes.
Saenz, 29, was found dead in her home on Christmas Day. Her two children, a boy, 8, and girl, 12, went to a neighbor’s home and reported that she would not wake up.
Authorities later determined she died of blunt force trauma. Her husband, Christopher Saenz, 30, was charged with murder two days after Christmas and is being held without bail at the Hancock County Jail.
Court documents revealed that, at the time of her death, Saenz had bruises at varying stages of healing all over her body and that police had been called to the family’s home in mid-December after her husband allegedly assaulted Saenz and threatened to kill her.
Don Greenwood of Mariaville sang “Go Rest High on That Mountain” and was followed by speakers who included victims of domestic violence and others who have been touched by it. They urged those at the gathering who may be suffering silently and privately from domestic violence to make known their plight to others and reach out to organizations like Next Step for help. In addition, they called on family and friends to support victims of domestic violence and come to their aid.
“Never be ashamed when abuse touches you,” said Aziza Daigle of Ellsworth. Instead, she said, reach out to others who can help.
“There’s no easy answer,” said Cathy Longo, who said she lost a friend to domestic violence in 2007 and as a result joined Next Step in order to try to help others.
Kim Grindle of Orland, who used to work with Saenz at Walmart in Ellsworth and was close friends with her for a period, brought a statement but was overcome with emotion and unable to read it. Hobbs read it in her stead. Grindle’s statement described how she and Saenz had become “instant friends” and some of the good-natured shenanigans they engaged in at work.
“She was wonderful. She was beautiful outside, inside. Very caring and funny,” Grindle said in an interview earlier Sunday.
Another speaker, a young Ellsworth woman who asked not to be identified, said Saenz was described as “abnormally sweet and kind.” She urged people to support and help those who are victims of domestic violence.
A funeral was held in Lewiston on Friday for Saenz, who attended school in Bowdoin and Topsham and was employed at Eastern Maine Medical Center and Walmart in Ellsworth.
The Ellsworth Elks Lodge will host a benefit dinner for the Saenz children at 5 p.m. on Jan. 25. In addition, TD Bank is accepting donations to benefit the youngsters.
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.