KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — On average, someone calls emergency services every 30 minutes in Knox County for domestic violence. Knoxville police said that domestic violence has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two people have lost their lives because of it this year. One of them is 29-year-old Nikita Nunez who was shot last month near downtown Knoxville.
Nikita Nunez's family now is left asking why it happened. She left behind four children and her relatives are fighting to keep the family together.
"You don't want to feel like this, you don't want to lose that person because of violence," said Nunez's cousin, Natasha Carr. "She treated everyone with respect and treated people like how she wanted to be treated."
The Knoxville Police Department responded to a call at Vista Apartments in downtown Knoxville on January 31. Nunez was found shot in a car. Her husband and suspect, Horace Andrew Tyler Nunez, fled to Kentucky and was later arrested.
Carr said nothing will heal the hurt their family has faced.
"They didn't just lose their mom, they lost their dad in reality too," she said.
"If you can find the sources, find a friend, if anyone is willing to reach out to you and help you, I would take that help. You don't want to be the parent that's leaving their children behind because of a bad situation," she said. "I know it's easier said than done, but please seek help."
An investigator with the Knoxville Police Department, Shaun Sakovich, echoed her plea to victims of domestic violence. He said that help is always waiting for them if they ever reach out.
He encouraged family and friends to do the same and reach out to authorities if something doesn't seem right.
"I would rather 1,000 people report the slightest thing and I can go find out it was nothing than one person not reporting something and that allows someone to get seriously hurt," he said.
As things return to normal and more people are vaccinated for COVID-19, he believes more victims will find a way to come forward for help.
"If nobody reaches out, it doesn't stop," he said. "It usually escalates and gets worse."
Victims of domestic violence are also encouraged to reach out to the Family Justice Center located in downtown Knoxville.
Anyone can call anonymously for help at 865-521-6336. If possible, they can also go to the center in-person for help.
Victims meet with advocates who are able to connect them with 60 agencies, which then work to connect victims with the resources they need.
In 2019, while more than 17,000 people called 911 in Knox County for a domestic-violence-related call, only around 1,500 came to visit the Family Justice Center.
Advocates said making the phone call is the first step to getting help and recovery. If you know of someone in a domestic violence situation, let them know about resources available.
"We have worked for a long time in Knox county to have one place for people to go to, one resource they can reach out to. By coming to the Family Justice Center, it will open the door to 60 agencies that are here to work on their behalf," said David Kitts with KPD Special Crimes Unit.