CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tonia Thomas has been an advocate for domestic violence victims for eight years, but never did the problem of domestic violence become so heartbreakingly clear to her as it did last June, when her sister was murdered by a live-in boyfriend.
Teresa Wilson of Beckley was 48 when Arthur Agnew beat her to death. Agnew pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and recently was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Thomas, a team coordinator with the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, knew her sister's boyfriend had been abusive.
Thomas and her niece had tried to strategize with Wilson to get her away from Agnew, but the man had threatened to kill Wilson if she ever went to police. In the end, he followed through with those threats, Thomas said.
It would be easy for Thomas to blame herself, she said.
"[But] all the accountability is on Arthur Agnew," Thomas said. "Regardless of how hard we tried . . . . All of this is on Arthur Agnew."
Thomas said her sister's death gave her a renewed drive to advocate against domestic violence.
"It really ignited, I think, a whole new spark in me that the work we do as advocates matters," Thomas said. "It makes me want to do even more."
In the days and weeks following her sister's death, Thomas turned to the help of a Beckley domestic violence victims' advocacy group.
"My mindset wasn't clear," she said. "[They] walked us through the system, [asked] what do you need from us? They were just great, and I would hate for other families not to have that."
It's for that reason that Thomas is encouraging the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is under consideration this week in the U.S. Senate.