If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, contact the 24-hour free, confidential hotlines the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks at (701) 746-8900, or Minnesota DayOne at (866) 223-1111.
GRAND FORKS — An obituary recalls Lissette Reinbold as a friendly, social person who learned to work hard at an early age and who loved snowmobiling with her dad. She was a loving mother to her children, described in the obituary as "a dance mom, soccer mom, basketball mom, theater mom, softball mom and swimming mom," who last month began work as an insurance representative at Sanford Health in Thief River Falls, Minn.
It has been two weeks since Reinbold, 34, was found dead in her Oklee, Minn., home, and her killer has not yet been caught. Authorities are seeking her husband, Eric Reinbold, who is considered the primary suspect in the homicide investigation.
Reinbold has not been charged with her death, but authorities have noted his history of violence toward his wife and children. He was convicted in 2015 of repeatedly ramming the vehicle they were in with his car, leading to an hours-long standoff with police. Two weeks after charges were filed, a judge lifted Reinbold's no-contact order with his wife and children after Lissette Reinbold told the judge that the accusations were "blown out of proportion."
As of Friday, July 23, Reinbold remains at large.
The investigation into Lissette Reinbold's death remains ongoing, and so details are scant. However, a look at other women killed by intimate partners in North Dakota and Minnesota in recent years shows that many cases bear more similarities than differences.
Raven Bianca Gant, 27, of Minneapolis, was attempting to leave her ex-boyfriend and had taken their 2-year-old daughter to live with her father. Her ex-boyfriend refused to return their belongings, and when she went to retrieve them on Thanksgiving Day 2019 he fatally shot her in the back.
Kirsten Knaus, 37, of Fargo, was in the process of moving into a friend's apartment in December 2020 when her boyfriend arrived, accused Knaus of having the keys to his apartment, demanded to be let inside, and kicked in the door. He pushed Knaus down the stairs, and she later died of her injuries. He told police that he realized after kicking in the door that he actually did have his keys.
And Mary Jo Loons Jansen, 46, of Rochester, was fatally shot by her husband in their home in February 2019 after she served him with divorce paperwork. An incident had prompted law enforcement to remove all firearms from their home months before, and when questioned about the shooting, the husband replied, "I guess I don't need to worry about a divorce now."
It's not unusual for bystanders to be mystified by women who stay in violent or potentially violent relationships, said Sara Sammert, the director of victim advocacy at the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks.
"It is hard for people that haven't been through a situation like that to understand a lot of the time," Sammert said. "But some of the things that might cross a victim's mind is that, you know, he's made a threat, or their partner has been a threat to them in many different forms — common threats would be like, to take the children away, or if the victim tried to leave (they) sometimes fear harm."
That can be the most dangerous time for women leaving violent partnerships, she said. According to a report by Violence Free Minnesota, just under a third of women killed by intimate partners in 2019 were separated or attempting to separate, compared with 50% who were, at the time, with their abuser.
Abusive partnerships often start with emotional abuse or exertions of power and control — abusers often tell their victims where they can go, who they can see or what they can wear long before the situation escalates to physical violence. It's also common for abusers to isolate their victims, Sammert said, often by cutting them off from friends, family or support systems, or using economic dependence, religious pressure or threats of violence to keep victims in their orbit.
The Violence Free Minnesota report also notes that the four biggest red flags that an abusive partnership could become lethal are:
- The victim's attempts to leave the abuser.
- Previous threats to kill the victim.
- The abuser's access to firearms.
- The abuser's history of violence.
According to the report, 16 women were killed by intimate partners in Minnesota in 2019. Of those, seven were shot, three were strangled, three were stabbed, one was beat to death, one was killed by vehicular homicide and one was poisoned. Half of their assailants had documented histories of violence.
The North Dakota Attorney General's Office reports 12 deaths from domestic violence in the state in 2020, five of which appear to be women killed by intimate partners (unlike the Violence Free Minnesota Report, the North Dakota Attorney General's report counts anyone who was killed by a partner, a parent or child, and people who reside together or share a child together, regardless of whether they have been in a partnership, among various other relationships).
As the number of homicides in North Dakota each year has risen, the number of deaths by domestic violence has risen as well. In 2019, there were 26 homicides, 10 of which were considered domestic violence, compared to 2010, when there were 12 homicides, six of which were domestic. Those numbers are up from 2001, when two out of nine total homicides were considered domestic.
Deanna Askew, the director of injury and violence prevention for the North Dakota Department of Health, said it's difficult to speculate why the homicide rate — and the domestic homicide rate — may be continuing to rise.
"Without knowing more of the circumstances around the deaths, we have to just deal with the facts that we have," Askew said.
State Epidemiologist Kodi Pinks hopes to have more insight into those numbers in the near future. Her department just recently finished collecting 2019 data regarding violent deaths in North Dakota, including intimate partner violence. The data will have to be cleaned and analyzed before it is published, but Pinks said she tentatively hopes that could be as soon as the end of the year or the beginning of next year.
With that data in hand, she said NDDOH will be able to better communicate information about how to stop intimate partner violence with the department's partnered organizations and stakeholders.
"We can use that data to help guide efforts," she said. "Whether it's prevention efforts, or intervention, or planning — like, how do we make that data useful from a statewide and local level?"
Still, compiling a full and accurate picture using data can be an uphill battle. Domestic violence reports can go through any number of law enforcement or advocacy organizations, resulting from a lack in any centralized reporting system. And for every incident of violence that is reported, there are likely countless more that are not.
And although all domestic and intimate partner violence is understood to be underreported, data regarding people from already-marginalized groups is particularly shaky: it's known that Native women, girls, transgender people and Two-Spirit people go missing at "staggering" rates, according to the report, but accurate and comprehensive data is difficult to track due to a lack of uniform reporting and national media attention.
The Violence Free Minnesota report does note that Native women face significantly higher rates of victimization due to legacies of colonialism, genocide, generational trauma and ongoing systematic oppression, and Black women are also killed by male intimate partners at nearly three times the rate of white women.
Still, there are steps victims of intimate partner violence can take to safely escape their situations, Sammert said.
"I would encourage her to talk to somebody," she said. "We have helped to get clients out of those situations, but everybody's not always ready, and you know, that's definitely not a requirement. We can just talk to them about different options, do safety planning, and that type of thing."
And for loved ones who are worried that someone in their life could be in danger, Sammert urges them to approach that person without criticism or judgment, acknowledge that they're in that situation, and find ways to be supportive, such as helping them to develop a safety plan.
"Just remember that you cannot rescue your loved one," she said. "Support them, but they have to make their own decisions, even though you may not agree with them. But we've had lots of times where a loved one came into CVIC with their family member to get that initial meeting so that they know we're here for them, they know that our services are confidential, that we don't charge for anything, and that we are here to help provide support."