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Published: Tuesday, 10/6/2009

Witness program notes tales of violence

BY BRIDGET THARP
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Six months ago, 35-year-old Melanie Golden was found shot dead in the South Toledo apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Donald Traviss. He first claimed she took her own life but later told police he shot her after taking the gun she pointed at him.

He said he didn't know the gun was loaded.

Traviss was convicted last month of involuntary manslaughter and is serving a 10-year sentence at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio.

Ms. Golden's story of domestic violence is now among those preserved by The Silent Witness Project in Bowling Green. A plaque with details of her death is mounted on a red, wooden female silhouette.

Silhouettes in tribute of seven women who were murdered were added Monday to the collection of 54 silent witnesses. The new silhouettes were unveiled during a special ceremony at the Dayspring Assembly of God Church.

The witnesses are displayed during special events across northwest Ohio to raise awareness about violence against women.

"The silent witnesses are real people with real names," said Mary Krueger, director of the Women's Center at Bowling Green State University, which founded the Silent Witness Project in 2001.

"It is way harder to look away from a real person's actual, live story than it is from a statistic or a number."

Until Ms. Golden's life was cut short, the 1991 Delta High School graduate enjoyed babysitting her nieces and nephews and collecting Disney memorabilia, her father, Anthony Golden said. She worked as a records clerk at the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital.

Her father said he hadn't heard of the Silent Witness Project before his daughter's story was added to the collection.

"In a way, it's kind of an honor," he said.

The six other women inducted as silent witnesses:

•Julia Bedford, 41, of Walbridge, died in the street in front of her home in September, 2008 after her longtime boyfriend stabbed her twice in the heart with a kitchen knife. Larry Adler, 62, plead guilty and was convicted of murder in March. He is serving 15 years to life at the Toledo Correctional Institute.

•Charlotte Evans, 32, of Carey, was found beaten and burned in a wildlife preserve in Erie County's Margaretta Township in May, according to the Silent Witness Project. Her boyfriend of several months, Timothy Tyree, 50, was arrested while driving her van in Kentucky. He awaits trial on charges of aggravated murder, arson, tampering with evidence, and gross abuse of a corpse.

•Henrietta Foster, 57, of Perrysburg, was found strangled and beaten to death at her home in April. Her autopsy showed that she was strangled and struck with trauma-inducing blows to the head, neck and torso. Her longtime on-again, off-again boyfriend was charged with her murder and tampering with evidence. Awaiting trial, Daniel E. Prater, 49, hung himself with a bedsheet in his cell at the Wood County jail in June.

•Shirley Walker, 53, of Toledo, died in January of injuries related to a severe beating nearly two years before from the man with whom she shared a home. In May, 2007 she was struck in the head and choked by Rochelle Neal, 47. Her injuries were so serious that she spent the rest of her life in a Sylvania nursing home. Neal was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is serving nine years at the Grafton Correctional Institute, a prison west of Cleveland.

•Betty Weaver, 66, of Bellevue, was shot and killed by her husband, Emmitt Weaver, also 66, in May before he turned the gun on himself. She was found face down, with one gunshot wound in the back and another in her upper torso.

•April Nicole Wheeler, 24, of Toledo, died in May four days after police found her strangled and unconscious in a central Toledo alley. Her husband, Johnnie Johnson, was arrested at the scene and has been charged with two counts of murder. He will face trial Dec. 14.

Their stories are different, but the endings are the same - the lives of these women ended violently.

Michelle Rizzi Salerno was among the first to be inducted when the Bowling Green chapter of the Silent Witness Project was launched eight years ago.

When she was killed, the Swanton native and Bowling Green State University graduate was a 26-year-old graduate student at Michigan State University. She had filed for divorce from her husband, Dennis Michael Salerno, before she went missing from her East Lansing apartment in June, 2000, her sister, Marie Rizzi, said.

"She was a very loving person," her sister said. "She wanted to believe in the best in people."

Her body was found in a BGSU construction landfill nearly a year later, and her husband, now 39, was charged. He was sentenced in Michigan to life in prison without the possibility of parole for Michelle's murder.

The Rizzi family has stayed involved with the Silent Witness Project since their first unveiling ceremony.

"It was good for the familes of the victim to be able to feel like your relative is going to be memorialized in a sense," Michelle's 37-year-old sister said. "Because they have passed, they're not going to be forgotten. That's one of the main points - to not forget the people that are victims and to possibly make a difference in someone else's life."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6086.



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