Exactly 10 years ago this past June, Elizabeth Butler, a 17-year-old North Salem High School student who was set to head off to SUNY Albany, was murdered inside her SUV by an abusive ex-boyfriend who had stalked her outside her place of work right near the Croton Falls train station.
The tragedy was remembered at a community walk-a-thon on Sunday. In the 10 years since this tragedy, members of the community have been inspired to combat dating violence through various initiatives aimed at empowering young adults to recognize and take action against teen domestic abuse. The Elizabeth G. Butler Angel Foundation — an organization created by Elizabeth Butler’s mother, Patricia Butler — has hosted an annual walk-a-thon for the past 10 years as a way to raise public awareness on an important, but often overlooked issue.
This year’s walk-a-thon showcased a new wave of youth activism, with high school sophomore Kelly McCarthy’s Athletes Against Abuse group co-sponsoring the event. Chilly temperatures didn’t stop a large crowd of friends, family and neighbors from gathering on Sunday morning outside the North Salem Lions Community Center, the starting point of the walk-a-thon’s seven-mile loop through town.
Registration began at 8:30, and participants had the chance to purchase purple dating violence awareness T-shirts and enjoy coffee and breakfast. Representatives from both the Putnam/Northern Westchester Women’s Resource Center and Athletes Against Abuse were stationed at tables, handing out brochures and information about their work.
The Resource Center offers services for women and children who are the victims of domestic violence, including a 24-hour sexual assault hotline and trauma healing support groups.
Athletes Against Abuse was started by Kelly McCarthy for her Girl Scout Gold Award project. McCarthy hopes that the initiative will encourage student athletes to take an active role in promoting healthy relationships. Money raised through the project will go towards supplying school sports teams with purple arm bands that are to be worn throughout October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The 10th annual walk-a-thon began with introductory remarks from several speakers, including Town Supervisor Warren Lucas and former Westchester County Legislator Peter Harckham. Harckham, who now works for Governor Cuomo, praised the “spirit and unity” of the community coming together for a positive cause.
The last speaker was Patricia Butler, who expressed her appreciation for the turnout and spoke of her foundation’s latest effort to get more men involved in preventing domestic abuse.
“This is really a man’s problem,” she told the crowd, stressing the importance of speaking out against such violence. “If you see something, say something…Communication is so important, and there are so many resources out there today.”
Butler noted the extraordinary change in both awareness and policy towards teen dating abuse in the 10 years since her daughter’s untimely death.
The walk-a-thon then commenced, with people choosing to either walk, run or bike down Titicus and Mills roads. The route, designated by purple ribbons tied around tree trunks every few feet, snaked around the Titicus Reservoir and past many scenic farms and nature reserves. Despite the cold weather, the sun was shining for the duration of the event, making for a pleasant and beautiful walk. The event concluded back at the Lions Community Center with a barbecue and live music by Jason Giordano.
Inside the community center, there was work on display by Art Against Abuse, a program which provides a platform for teens to creatively express their perspectives on dating abuse.