The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

October 7, 2013

Family of slain woman honored for work against domestic violence

We all react differently to tragedy. When Jim and Elsa Croucher lost their daughter, Tina, at the hands of her abusive ex-boyfriend four days before Christmas in 1992, they acted like you might expect: They flipped the lights off in their lives, closed the curtains and soaked the carpet with tears.

There were two burials that winter afternoon - their daughter and it appeared their lives.

The couple “wallowed in the grief” for four years, Elsa Croucher said last week.

Then one day, they decided they had had enough. They couldn’t live like that. The boy stole their daughter. They didn’t want to be his second and third victims.

“We had to do something,” Elsa Croucher said.

So they started a domestic violence education program in memory of their 18-year-old daughter, whose killer later committed suicide. Like so many dreams, this one started with a few seeds before it took root.

“We had no expectations whatsoever,” she said.

But there was a driving force behind the program.

“We did it for the kids and for our own therapy,” she said.

Determined to help save others from Tina’s fate, the Crouchers founded Citizens Against Domestic Violence in 1996 and created a teen dating violence prevention program, Dating Violence: 101. Nationally recognized speakers, the Crouchers furthered their efforts to educate the public about domestic violence with their efforts in the passage of the Tina Croucher Act in 2009.

They took their educational program on the road, and delivered it to anyone who would listen. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 students attended their presentations. After each session, they received confirmations that their hearts were in the right place.

Students called them, wrote them, opening their wounds to Jim and Elsa Croucher, strangers really.

“They needed the information that we had,” she said. “It was very badly needed.”

They were quite a team, Jim and Elsa Croucher. Jim was the comedian; Elsa was the sobering mother. The left every gym filled with laughter and tears.

“He had a way of getting the message across to the teenagers,” she said of her husband. “The kids loved him; thought he was crazy the way he carried on. Then I got up there and talked about Tina and you could hear a pin drop. They were really very receptive to what we had to say.”

Now the Croucher team is silent. Jim, 69, died last summer.

Last week, the Ohio Domestic Violence Net-work (ODVN) announced the newly established Croucher Family Award for Outstanding Advocacy. The award was presented at the Kickoff to Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the Ohio Statehouse. The award was given to Elsa Croucher and Johanna Orozco-Fraser, a young Cleveland woman who survived a gunshot wound to her face at the hands of an abusive ex-boyfriend. After undergoing 12 painful surgeries to rebuild her jaw, she tells her inspiring story across the country to save others from her fate.

Elsa Croucher called having the award named in their honor “absolutely wonderful.” Then she got quiet for a second.

“You know,” she said, “it’s also overwhelmingly bittersweet. Jim would be elated.”

No parent should have to deal with the losses Elsa Croucher has suffered. She brought four children into this world, and has buried two of them: Connie, 26, who died of congenital heart disease on Jan. 3, 1988; and Tina five years later.

She said her other two children, Terri Evick, 53, and Tim Croucher, 50, have been “very supportive.”

She said losing a child “leaves a hole in your heart that is never filled. It is very different than a spouse, mother or father. After a while, people expect that you should go on with your life and just be fine.”

Eventually, while they never forgot, Jim and Elsa Croucher marched forward. And because of that determination, they may have saved other parents the same grief.

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