New Hampshire shooting raises questions about visitation centers
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The supervised visitation center where a man shot to death his 9-year-old son before turning the gun on himself is not subject to state laws or regulations -- a fact the boy’s mother would like to change in his memory.
Menahem Savyon followed through on a threat he’d made 16 months earlier to shoot either the boy’s mother -- Becky Ranes -- or their son, Joshua, and himself.
During a supervised visit at the YWCA in Manchester on Aug. 11, the 54-year-old Savyon shot his son to death and then turned the gun on himself. Ranes arrived to a crime scene and the reality of what she had feared for more than a year.
Ranes’ lawyer, David Bailinson, said his client wants legislation passed that would require an immediate search of the premises and vehicle of any person who uses or threatens the use of deadly force once a judge issues an emergency restraining order.
"Being able to search immediately, before they have a chance to hide the weapon, would be critical to insure something like this would never happen again," Bailinson. "Becky and her family so much want something positive to come out of this nightmare."
He said he and Ranes will also lobby to have the state’s handful of supervised visitation centers be regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services and be required to use metal detectors. He said she felt "betrayed" by the YWCA’s failure to use the metal detector on Savyon.
YWCA Manchester President Monica Zulauf did not return several calls for comment, nor did Savyon’s lawyer, Catharine Shanelaris.
How, when and where Savyon got the gun remain under investigation. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young, head of the criminal bureau, said she expects the investigation will take weeks.
"This horrific crime unfortunately presents us with an opportunity to look at the entire situation and see if there are steps that could or should be taken," said Young.
In May 2012, a judge issued a final domestic violence protection order that barred Savyon from coming within 100 yards of Ranes and instructed him to surrender any deadly weapons he possessed. Savyon swore he had none.
Federal and state laws prohibit the possession of a gun by anyone who is subject to a restraining or protective order, and any attempt by Savyon to legitimately purchase a gun after March 2012 should have been caught during a background check mandated by state law, Bailinson said
Dr. Marci Martel, owner and counselor at Northeast Counseling and Coaching in Amherst, said she immediately implemented new policies after the Manchester tragedy.
"We have a metal detecting wand and are using that on everyone," Martel said. "We no longer allow handbags, or purses or any type of bag, even though we would check those before."
Martel and others have questioned whether Savyon should have had any visitation, even supervised, given the explicit nature of his threat.
"When the courts see violent behavior, I think they need to take that seriously and that may supersede a parent’s right to see a child," Martel said.
Rep. Jeff Oligny, a Plaistow Republican and member of the Children and Family Law Committee, last session sponsored a bill that would have initiated a study of supervised visitation centers with an eye toward putting uniform rules in place. His proposal was tabled, but he says he’ll renew it in the wake of the YWCA shootings.
"Since the centers are unlicensed and unregulated, you or I could start one next week," Oligny said.
Attorney Kysa Crusco, who chairs the family law chapter of the New Hampshire Bar Association, said visitation centers should be regulated and metal detectors should be mandatory, but also said the state should come up with funding to assist in reaching those goals.
"The unfortunate thing about this is that it shouldn’t have happened at a visitation center," Crusco said. "If this man was so determined to do this he could have done it outside a visitation center as well."
Half of New Hampshire homicides annually are the result of domestic violence, according to a 10-year study published last year by the Governor’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence.
Scott Hampton, a Dover clinical psychologist who counsels batterers and has served on national panels developing visitation centers, says there needs to be a broader approach to ending domestic violence.
"The reason we have two dead people in Manchester is because there was a man who had a belief system that categorized his family as property," Hampton said. "We still have a society that condones a man’s dominance over women and children. Until we are crystal clear about the causes of domestic violence, we are going to let our guard down."
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