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Wisniewski death has domestic violence echoes

The fatal shooting of Jackie Wisniewski in a medical center stairwell points to the culmination of an abusive relationship with Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr.

And for advocates of victims of domestic violence, the emerging details of the tragic case sound all too familiar:

*Tracking the victim's movements.

*Driving by her house.

*Holding her hostage at knifepoint.

Experts agree that the case bears all the hallmarks of domestic violence, including a history of physical confrontation, access to weapons, stalking behavior and the victim's recent separation from the abuser.

"These are all patterns that jump out at us," said Suzanne E. Tomkins, a University at Buffalo law professor, who runs an annual clinic for students on the issue of domestic violence.

"It absolutely sounds like a classic situation where the victim was trying to get free of an abusive partner who wouldn't let her go," said Laura E. Grube, a coordinator with Child & Family Services Haven House, serving victims of domestic violence.

Police are learning more about that relationship between Wisniewski, 33, a single mother from West Seneca, and Jorden, 49, an Erie County Medical Center surgeon wanted for allegedly shooting her at point-blank range Wednesday.

Cellphone records obtained by authorities indicate that Jorden had been in contact with Wisniewski prior to the shooting. And though the exchange of communications is not known, law enforcement officials said the fact that they were in contact offered proof of how difficult it is to break off troubled relationships.

"I don't believe there were any order of protections involving the victim," Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said Thursday. "I'm not aware of any domestic reports with our victim."

While police offered few other details, at least one friend of the victim said Wisniewski had been abused by the doctor and was scared of him, as she tried to end their relationship.

The doctor had tracked her movements with a GPS device, threatened to kill her, held her hostage at knifepoint and drove by her home and took down the license plate numbers of vehicles in front of the house, the friend said.

Jorden's alleged actions dovetail with what advocates for victims of domestic abuse say is standard operating procedure for abusers who ultimately kill their intimate partners.

"In abusive relationships that turn fatal, there are always red flags. Stalking is one of them," said Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of the Family Justice Center, a comprehensive agency for abuse victims.

So are verbal threats to kill the victim, she said. Both are major indicators on a lethality assessment that caseworkers review when trying to help abused women.

"Although domestic violence homicides are not that common, what is common is for domestic violence to escalate to the point of injury or near-homicide assaults," Grube said.

The victim's friend indicated Wisniewski filed a report with authorities after finding the GPS device in her vehicle, but police in West Seneca -- where she lived -- did not confirm that Thursday.

Police in Buffalo and Cheektowaga confirmed that Jorden was involved in two separate domestic incidents in 2003, although they did not involve Wisniewski.

The fact that Jorden apparently had a history of violence against his partners is considered the No. 1 indicator of potential homicide, Tomkins said.

In such relationships, according to experts on domestic violence, an abuser is most likely to leap from abuse to homicide when the victim leaves or tries to leave because the abuser is threatened with a loss of the power and control that defines his relationship with the victim.

Travers Murphy said that's why victims who seek help from the Family Justice Center are given a safety plan personalized for them, to help them escape an abusive relationship.

Sometimes that means keeping a packed overnight bag with personal and children's belongings and medication at a friend's house. Sometimes it means having a secret code to alert a neighbor that he or she should call the police.

"We customize it to the abuse that we're hearing about," said Travers Murphy, whose agency alone handled nearly 2,000 cases last year.

"It's so important to believe victims," Travers Murphy said. "If they are brave enough to talk about it, it's our job to take it seriously."

News Staff Reporters Lou Michel and Phil Fairbanks contributed to this report.

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Domestic violence victim resources

*Family Justice Center of Erie County 558-SAFE (7233)
*Erie County Crisis Services 24-hour hotline 862-HELP (4357)
*Haven House shelter 884-6000