PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — After he threatened her with a gun, Carolin Woodburn filed for divorce from Dennis Kern and got a Protection from Abuse Order, also known as a PFA.
But her daughter, Shelley Woodburn, says that didn’t stop Kern from stalking and threatening her.
“They would pass on the street and he would put his hand up like he was going to shoot her in the head,” said Shelley.
Carolin’s daughter also says Kern slashed 13 tires on her mother’s car, and also broke into and ransacked her home.
Shelley: “She used to can a lot of stuff in the basement. He took probably about 100 fruit jars and busted them all over the floor in her fruit cellar.”
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “Was he arrested for this?”
Despite the PFA and repeated calls to police, Kern wasn’t arrested. According to Shelley, he was never even questioned. Then, two months later he broke in again.
“This time he took a knife and cut her mattress up, and left the knife stuck in the mattress,” said Shelley.
It all ended in October of 2015 when Carolin was shot dead behind the wheel of her car on a country road in Washington County.
A day later, Kern would take his own life after barricading himself in Carolin’s house, this time surrounded by an army of police.
But for seven months prior, he had remained free to terrorize Carolin. When officials finally did charge Kern, police never physically arrested him. Instead, they sent him a citation in the mail ordering him to appear at a court hearing three weeks later.
Sheehan: “But he never went to that hearing.”
Shelley: “No, he never made it ‘cause he shot my mother and then he turned around and took his own life the day after.”
Carolin would become yet another woman who sought protection with PFA, and got none.
“To me, it’s just ink on a piece of paper that never helped her. Never did a darn thing for her,” said Shelley.
But this tragedy raises the question, is there anything being done to strengthen PFAs and protect women like Carolin when someone is determined to kill them.
It’s not an isolated case. In Washington County alone, two other women have since been murdered despite having a PFA against the person who killed them.
Kevin Ewing kidnapped his wife, Tierne, for 12 days and tortured her in July of last year. And, despite a PFA, a month later while on house arrest, he took her to a barn and shot her.
Then, last November, in an incident that shocked the region, Michael Cwiklinski fatally shot his wife, Dalia Sabae, and Canonsburg Police Officer Scott Bashioum, and then took his own life. Cwiklinski had long terrorized Sabae, despite her having a PFA against him.
“These are very tragic cases. They’re horrible,” said Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone.
Vittone says he wants police and the courts to identify people like Kern, Ewing and Cwiklinski, who are most likely to physically harm or kill their victim.
“We’re trying to incorporate a lethality assessment, an assessment of how dangerous somebody is,” said Vittone.
Are they addicted to drugs or alcohol? Have they ever threatened or attempted to strangle a victim? If so, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta wants magistrates to take an extra step. She’s sponsoring a bill that would allow them to set bail high enough to keep the person in jail until trial.
“They should be behind bars. It’s that simple,” said Sen. Bartolotta. “Keep these abusers, who have a high level of risk, keep them behind bars. Keep them away from their victim.”
But until changes are made, Shelley says women with PFAs will continue to live in fear like her mom.
“Because no one seems to help the people at need it,” said Shelley. “Not only my family, what about the other families, what about the people now who have current PFAs that are probably fearful; I know she was.”