Mothers hold candlelight vigil for daughters killed by domestic violence

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The mothers of Emma Walker, Brooke Morris and Brittany Eldridge are coming together to remember and raise awareness. Their lives were cut short because of domestic violence. A candlelight vigil was held at 6 p.m. Monday in World’s Fair Park to highlight the prevalence of domestic violence.

These moms say holding a vigil is difficult but it’s a way to show people that domestic violence can happen to anyone and there are resources to help you get out safely.

Brooke Morris

Brooke Morris: A smile that could light up a room

Even in pictures Tina Gregg says she can still hear her daughter, “To me it’s laugh. Her laugh was contagious and I miss that. I miss her voice. I miss everything about her.”

Loved ones say Brooke Morris was sweet, kind and the life of the party, someone who loved and lived life to the fullest.

Morris was 23 years old when she was shot to death Oct. 15, 2011, by her ex-boyfriend, Shawn Smoot. They were on their way to pick up her car.

“Evidently she got out of the car because she had her purse with her and she was either walking or running to get away from him. He shot her three times and left her on the side of the road. She was desperately trying to get away,” Gregg said.

Gregg says at the time, she didn’t know about Brooke’s relationship with Smoot.

“He was very volatile,” Gregg said. “He broke in her apartment one night, so she took out an order of protection against him, and he told her basically what he was going to do. He said ‘I’ll kill ya and leave you on the side of the road,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”

Smoot is spending the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole since his conviction of first-degree premeditated murder.

The decision was made after five years of investigation and legal wrangling and 22 delays in the trial, mostly from Smoot requesting to have new attorneys on his case.

“It’s never really justice. Our children are gone forever. They will never be back with us, they just live in our hearts,” Gregg said.

Since Brooke’s death, Gregg has worked with other mothers in Hope for Victims to raise awareness about domestic violence and that it can happen to anyone.

“I know Brooke’s proud of the work that we’ve done. If you are in any kind of volatile relationship, you have got to get help. You’ve got to get out and you’ve got to stay out,” Gregg said.

Emma Walker

Emma Walker: Daughter, sister and friend

Emma Walker had two loves: Helping animals and helping people. She dreamed of being either a veterinarian or a NICU nurse. As she got older, she gravitated towards the medical field, so NICU nurse, it was. 

She was a sophomore at Central High School when she started dating a member of the football team, Riley Gaul.

What photographs of the couple didn’t show were months of on-and-off fighting through phone calls, text messages, and fights in front of friends spanning two years.

After multiple attempts, Walker finally broke up with Gaul. In November 2016, investigators said Gaul shot into Walker’s bedroom while the teen was sleeping and killed her.

In May 2018, after only four hours of deliberation, a jury found Riley Gaul guilty of first-degree murder. Gaul received sentences for the charges of stalking, reckless endangerment, theft, tampering with evidence and possession of a firearm, totaling almost 11 years. Gaul will serve that time concurrently with his sentence of 51 years for first-degree murder and felony murder. 

His mandatory life term for first-degree murder and felony murder would allow him to be eligible for parole after 51 years. 

Brittan Eldridge

Brittany Eldridge: Excited to be a mother

Brittany Eldridge was 8-and-a-half months pregnant, excited and ready to welcome her first child, Zeke, into the world. Her family said she was ecstatic about becoming a mother.

Eldridge’s loved ones say she was beautiful, with a beautiful smile and beautiful blue eyes. She would light up a room. She was the rock and foundation of their family. Everybody loved her.

Eldridge was strangled, suffocated and stabbed to death in her Knoxville apartment in December 2011. Her boyfriend and father of her unborn baby, Norman Clark, was the lead suspect in the case.

In August 2015, a jury failed to reach a verdict on Clark. After eight days of testimony and less than 24 hours of deliberation, the 12-member jury ended in deadlock after they couldn’t agree on a verdict. The jury was 11 to 1 in favor of not guilty for Clark.

After more than 17 hours of deliberating in September 2017, 12 jurors told Judge Steven Sword they were hopelessly deadlocked and unable to return a verdict in Clark’s murder retrial.

In January 2018, Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen announced that she was stopping the prosecution of Clark relating to the death of Eldridge and her unborn child.

Domestic Violence resources

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence found 40% of Tennessee women and 32.5% of Tennessee men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner rape and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes.

Haven House

Haven House domestic violence services assists in crisis, shelter and resources for victims and survivors. Their crisis hotline is 865-982-1087.

Knoxville Family Justice Center

Knoxville Family Justice Center serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and has a support center that provides services such as prosecutors, detectives, clergy and social service professionals. 

Its 24/7 Family violence helpline 865-521-6336.

The Salvation Army/The Joy D. Baker Center

The Salvation Army’s Knoxville Area Command offers domestic violence recovery programs and the Joy D. Baker Center for emergency shelter for women/children affected by domestic violence. If you need help call 865-525-9401.

Legal resources:

  • Attorney General’s Office (Criminal Court) 865-215-2515
  • Orders of Protection (Fourth Circuit Court) 865-215-2404
  • Legal Aid of East Tennessee (Divorce, OP) 865-215-6830

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-7233.

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