Editor's note: To reach the Carteret County Domestic Violence Program's 24/7 hotline, please call 252-728-3788.
NEWPORT — Dozens of county residents braved Friday evening’s downpour to attend a candlelight vigil in honor of slain Newport woman Kristen Bennett.
The vigil came almost a year after another candlelight vigil for the then-missing woman. While last year’s vigil was held in the midst of a search for her, Friday night’s came weeks after an autopsy on a body, discovered in Mill Creek, confirmed it was the remains of the young mother.
For many, the vigil provided some closure on a fraught year.
“Kristen was my daughter’s best friend and (her grandson’s) godmother,” Morehead City resident Kristie Montford said.
While many of the participants were Newport residents, some, like Ms. Montford, were from other parts of the county. Atlantic Beach Fire Chief Mike Simpson attended with his family.
“I’m here to support (the Bennett family) and also standing up against domestic violence and things of that nature,” he said.
Ms. Bennett, 24, was reported missing Aug. 16, 2018. Lewis Victor Branche III, 26, known as Trey, her boyfriend and the father of her young son, was charged with her murder last September.
In July, investigators said a tip led them to property owned by Mr. Branche’s family, where they recovered a body identified days later as the missing woman.
Organizers of the vigil emphasized raising awareness about domestic violence, largely due to what they believe played a significant role in Ms. Bennett’s murder.
Ms. Montford and a number of other vigil participants said they had personal experience with domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is something nobody really talks about,” Newport resident Natasha Brown said. “It can be obvious and it could be something that you don’t expect from somebody.”
A longtime acquaintance of Ms. Bennett, Ms. Brown said the details surrounding Ms. Bennett’s murder hit particularly close to home for her. Her aunt was killed in circumstances that echoed Ms. Bennett’s.
“I feel like it’s important people know the signs and learn the red flags,” Ms. Brown said.
Glenda Riggs agreed. The executive director of Carteret County’s Domestic Violence Program, Ms. Riggs attended Friday’s vigil in order to hand out pamphlets detailing resources domestic violence victims can turn to for help.
“There is help out there, before a tragedy strikes,” Ms. Riggs said. “We have safe shelter for victims of domestic violence. We have counseling. We have court advocates…just all sorts of support.”
To make use of or learn more about the county’s domestic violence protection resources, call the 24-hour crisis line at 252-728-3788.
“You just call there and there is an advocate on call 24 hours a day who can assist you,” Ms. Riggs said, adding that domestic violence is one of the more silent issues plaguing the county. “We currently have close to 18 people, adults and children, in our shelter. This summer, we received three to five calls a day from people needing shelter or needing some sort of assistance.”
Ms. Riggs added that over a three-year span, from 2015-17, there were more than 1,000 calls from people seeking help.
Ms. Riggs joined local minister Bob Lowery as one of the evening’s speakers. Mr. Lowery said he hoped what happened to Ms. Bennett never happens again.
“I know that right now there are a lot of people that are affected by this,” Mr. Lowery said, minutes prior to the participants lighting their candles. “One thing that death can’t do is take a memory.”
Vigil participants said they were glad to see the community come together to honor Ms. Bennett.
“That a town can come together and honor somebody in a situation like that, it shows a lot of love and support for the family,” Newport resident Melody Brooks said. “I just think it’s awesome.”
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.