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A domestic violence survivor shares her message following Young Terrace mass shooting

After five women were shot in Norfolk in what started as a domestic violence incident, the Young Terrace Community came together to remember the three who died.

NORFOLK, Va. — After five women were shot in Norfolk on Wednesday in what started as a domestic violence incident, the Young Terrace Community came together to remember the three women who died.

The Young Terrace community is still in mourning after a 19-year-old man allegedly killed three women and injured two others. Friends and family came together for a candlelight vigil and balloon release.

They spoke about how loved the three women were and much they will miss them.

Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone said they believe it was a domestic situation. Ziontay Palmer allegedly shot his 19-year-old girlfriend, then shot four other women when they came outside.

One witness said that as the injured and pregnant girlfriend ran for help, her mother -- Nicole Lovewine -- along with her partner Detra Brown walked up, not knowing what had just happened. The witness said Palmer then shot both of them in the head, killing them instantly.

Neighbors said two other women who are nearby neighbors rushed to help, but Palmer also shot them. One of those neighbors, Sara Costine, was killed.

RELATED: Man facing murder, other charges after 5 women shot in Young Terrace in Norfolk

"Just a real disturbing trend that the bystanders are also getting hurt or killed," said Samaritan House Executive Director Robin Gauthier. "It concerns me because people aren’t going to want to help the victims if they are in danger."

She said in her 20 years helping domestic violence victims, she's rarely seen bystanders get hurt. Gauthier added that since this happened Wednesday night, they’ve gotten more calls from women seeking help.

"One of our hotline workers who said she just got three calls today from people talking about how concerned they are about the domestic violence they’re experiencing because of the shooting that happened the other night and wanting to ensure they got the proper help so this wouldn’t happen to them."

RELATED: Crisis, domestic violence prevention organizations offer help following deadly shooting in Norfolk

However, she said the influx of calls is not a surprise.

"This is an epidemic and we have to pay attention to our African American women. This is serious. They’re getting killed," Gauthier said. "Programs all over Hampton Roads are experiencing a higher demand in phone calls, in shelter services, in victim advocacy services and the death rates are going up."

She said that is especially true in Norfolk.

"I know Norfolk has a considerable rise in their death rate due to domestic violence and we’re seriously concerned. It’s just getting really tragic out there."

Melissa Merritt is a survivor of domestic violence.

"I married my abuser and it took me a long time to get out of it."

She said it took a lot of strength for her to leave, but she wants other women to know it’s possible.

"I had to change everything. People, places, and things. I had to like, meet new people, make better connections because without the support, I couldn’t have done it," she explained.

Merritt said her message to women who are in violent relationships is that you deserve better.

"You’re beautiful, you’re valuable, you’re loved and you’re stronger than you think," she said.

If you have a family member or a loved one who is in an abusive relationship, Gauthier said you should organize a safety plan by letting them know what resources are out there.

She also said you can call the Samaritan House anonymously to seek advice at 757-430-2120.

"Letting them know how concerned you are for their safety. Sometimes they just don’t realize when they’re in it how bad it could get and domestic violence gets worse over time."