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Lighting a candle for Kari Parents of teen killed by boyfriend push 'Safe Dates' initiative

It has been six months since Kari Gorman's boyfriend shot her to death.

For Kari's parents, there are still lots of tears, not because of anger or hate, but out of a desire for courage and hope.

Kim L. Davidson and James Gorman Jr. have vowed to "light a single candle rather than curse the darkness."

And they want others to join them.

Davidson and Gorman have created Kari's Candle of Hope Foundation. Their goal is to bring awareness to the perils of teen dating violence. They hope to do so by pushing for a curriculum dedicated to the awareness and prevention of teen relationship violence, one that would be required in middle and high schools across New York State.

"Just because it wasn't physical abuse, it was very emotional," Davidson said of her daughter's relationship, which ended last July 26, when her boyfriend, Shawn Wolf, killed her, and then himself.

Both Gorman and Davidson said their effort is not about blaming Wolf, but about helping other teens.

If you teach healthy relationships to teen boys and girls, you can eliminate the abuser, Davidson said.

"Then you don't have a victim," she said.

Kari's parents said they hope that having a state-mandated "Safe Dates" program will mean awareness that prevents similar tragedies.

"If I can help one kid through a bad relationship, then it will all be worth it," Gorman said. "I don't want to ever see another parent go through what we did."

Kari's parents, who are divorced, aren't in the effort alone.

Davidson is among a group of people from across the country who have been selected as "action leaders" by Redbook magazine and Liz Claiborne Inc. with "Moms and Dads for Education to Stop Date Abuse." The leaders were chosen to spearhead statewide efforts to adopt teen dating abuse education policies as part of a national campaign.

The magazine and cosmetics company announced their selections last week, before Valentine's Day.

Kari, who had been a Wilson High School cheerleader, was killed by Wolf because she was trying to break up with him. Both had recently graduated from high school, and both planned to attend Niagara County Community College. She was 18. He was 19.

Wolf quit his job at a Ransomville restaurant, then went to Kari's house and shot her to death, Niagara County sheriff's deputies said last year. Then Wolf went to a cemetery where his father is buried and shot himself.

Davidson said she had seen some of the signs of Wolf's controlling behavior, such as constant text messages and not allowing her daughter to spend time with her girlfriends.

She has tried to turn her grief into a driving force, speaking at schools and telling her story.

It has been hard, she said, "[but] I want to make Kari's memory mean something."

She and her ex-husband have been joined in the Candle of Hope Foundation by Laurie A. Hexemer, a member of Davidson's church, and Wilson cheerleading coach Amy B. Wiltse.

Davidson said that after Kari's death, she sought out similar stories and found a woman in Rhode Island, Ann Burke, whose daughter Lindsay Ann was killed by her jealous boyfriend in 2005.

The Lindsay Ann Burke Act is now law in Rhode Island and mandates a "Safe Dates" curriculum for children in grades seven to 12, which Davidson said they would like to bring to New York State schools. Funding would train a teacher in the curriculum and purchase the materials.

Davidson said she has already received support from State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston.

In fact, DelMonte told Davidson last week that she has introduced legislation modeled after the Lindsay Ann Burke Act in the New York State Assembly. The Kari Ann Gorman Act awaits a sponsor in the state Senate.

The Safe Dates effort is backed by some alarming statistics from 2006 and 2007 provided by the state Office for Prevention of Domestic Violence. Of girls in serious relationships surveyed:

One in five said they have been punched, hit or slapped.

Nearly one in three have been pressured to engage in unwanted sexual acts.

One in three have been text-messaged 10, 20 or 30 times an hour by a partner to find out where they were.

Nearly one in five said their partner has used a network Web site to harass or put them down.

Davidson and Wiltse said they have been asked by girls for help when they talked at schools, but they admit they are not professionals.

"The Safe Dates curriculum would be more beneficial," Wiltse said. "We're just talking about life experiences, but we are limited about professional help we can provide."

Hexemer said the mission of Kari's Candle of Hope Foundation is to provide awareness of the Safe Dates effort and "to be a beacon of hope to someone who might otherwise be lost in a relationship. The idea is to teach both partners," she said.

One of the first fundraisers for the foundation will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday in United Baptist Christian Church, 4800 Creek Road, Lewiston.

Kari attended the church, and it's where the Rev. George Brown, retired pastor, reminded everyone at Kari's funeral that it was better to light one candle than curse the darkness.

The foundation has taken up the call as its mission statement.

Saturday's fundraiser will include more than 80 baskets, with a chance to win original artwork by Lewiston artist Michael McMahon, as well as live music by Tony Pietrocelli, pizza provided by Johnston's Family Restaurant and an appearance by Buffalo Bills cheerleaders. There will also be a silent auction.

All money raised will be used to help pay to purchase materials for the Safe Dates curriculum.


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