MOULTRIE -- Jennifer Martin would've turned 35 in November.

But an angry boyfriend, in a moment of rage, put an end to her life when he shot her in the head on their front lawn in February, 2001.

Martin became one of the many sad statistics that are tallied as a result of domestic violence.

She will be remembered tonight, along with the 37 other Georgians who lost their lives in domestic violence disputes in 2001, during a candlelight vigil on the courthouse square. Martin was the only Colquitt Countian who died from a domestic violence incident in 2001, said Monica Prestridge, director of The Serenity House. The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence compiled the statistics.

The Serenity House, a domestic violence shelter that recently opened in Colquitt County, will be sponsoring the vigil. Flowers by Barrett will provide decorations and arrangements.

"We'll be lighting a candle for every victim who lost their life in the state of Georgia in 2001," said Prestridge. "It's in conjunction with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is October."

The event starts at 7 p.m., and a reception will follow at The Colquitt, a retirement home on North Main Street across from the courthouse.

Martin's mother, Elizabeth Martin, will be recognized during the ceremony, Prestridge said. The last domestic-violence remembrance ceremony in Moultrie was in 2000.

Prestridge has been the director of Serenity House since its completion in May, 2002. Since then, 24 women and 18 children have been served there.

"We're staying very busy," Prestridge said. "Right now, we have four women and four children."

The shelter, one of 41 in Georgia, is capable of housing 15 people. Most of the women housed at the Serenity House have been from Colquitt County, but women from Cook, Thomas and Lowndes counties also have been served.

The murder of Kim Nunez, of Moultrie, on June 9 2000, was the catalyst for the Serenity House. Nunez was gunned down by her estranged husband in downtown Moultrie. He committed suicide following the shooting.

Domestic violence awareness is the keystone of tonight's service, which is something Prestridge said is paramount to reducing family violence.

"It's extremely important ... If women aren't aware of their options, then they don't have any choice but to stay in the violence," she said.

Reports of domestic violence have increased over the years, but Prestridge said that doesn't mean that the numbers of violent incidents have gone up.

"It's increased over the years, because awareness has increased and more women are coming forward," she said. "Women now have an option with shelters across the state."

In 2001, 62,801 crisis calls were taken by shelters statewide, and 3,355 adults and 3,658 children were served, reports The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

But there's been too much demand and not enough bed space, as a board member pointed out.

"Funding for shelters is a real problem," said Marguerite Petersen, president of the board of The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "In 2001, 1,811 adults and 2,104 children were denied shelter due to lack of room available."

Petersen said that she is not sure if the numbers are increasing each year due to more violence or because the shelters are doing a better job of getting the word out that help is available.

That help may have saved Jennifer Martin's life.

Her mother said that she knew the couple was having problems, but she couldn't fathom Jennifer's boyfriend, Billy Joe Ward, killing her.

"I just never thought he would do that," she said.

Ward is currently serving a 15-year sentence in a Georgia prison for voluntary manslaughter for Martin's murder, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections' Web site.

Elizabeth Martin said that isn't long enough.

"She didn't deserve to die like that," said Elizabeth Martin, her mother. "That was my only daughter."

To contact reporter Kevin Liles, please call 985-4545, ext. 225.

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