VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Are you or someone you love suffering in silence?
At 10 On Your Side, we are hoping to help break the cycle of domestic violence with resources and advice from those who are working behind the scenes to help victims.
According to the YWCA of South Hampton Roads, on average, domestic violence victims go back to their abusers seven times. Additionally, many are too afraid to speak out, thus, the cycle of domestic violence often continues for months, years — sometimes it never ends.
One of those cases in which the cycle turned deadly involves Virginia Beach resident, Bellamy Gamboa.
Lamont Johnson is charged with second-degree murder in the disappearance and death of the 40-year-old mother of four. Gamboa went missing after she was last seen on July 1, 2018, at her apartment on Carrene Drive at the Diamond Springs Apartments.
Weeks later, officers arrested Johnson, who had previously told 10 On Your Side that Gamboa was his ex-girlfriend. Court records show Johnson confessed to pushing Gamboa down the stairs and choking her to death.
He also admitted to putting Gamboa’s body in a car and taking her to Chesapeake. Video from Johnson’s interrogation was played in court during Thursday’s hearing. In the video, Johnson is heard telling detectives, “I shoved (Gamboa) and fell downstairs. I tripped and fell as well. I was holding my son and he fell with me, but he wasn’t hurt.”
Johnson went on to say, “Bellamy said, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? You are going to jail.’ I then threw her down and choked her until she was unresponsive.”
He added that he wrapped Gamboa up in a blanket and plastic bags.
A second video played in court later showed Johnson showing detectives where he dumped Gamboa’s body at an overflowing trash dumpster in Chesapeake. Her body has never been found.
10 On Your Side requested 911 calls from a prior incident involving the couple. Gamboa speaks with an emergency operator in March 2017 outside of her apartment:
Gamboa: I’ll be OK, I can’t, I can’t … I’ll be alright…
Operator: I mean, did he hit you?
Gamboa: I mean, I fell, I’ll be OK, m’am. We just got into a fight that’s all, I don’t have any broken bones.
Operator: Can you please just tell me the address where you are at for verification?
Gamboa: No … no … because it will just get worse.
Charisse Gamboa is Bellamy’s sister. She says things could have turned out differently for her loved one.
“Sadly, it was too late for my sister,” said Gamboa. “The charges were dropped. I think it’s because Bellamy was, she was terrified to continue.”
Charisse Gamboa is hoping her sister’s story helps others, who are afraid to come forward.
“It could have been pushed harder, they could have sent someone for a welfare check because she was in fear,” said Gamboa.
According to Kristen Pine, Chief Programs Officer at YWCA of South Hampton Roads, so many are afraid to leave a relationship and come forward.
“Tragic, I think it’s just tragic,” said Pine.
According to court records, in 2017, Gamboa sought two emergency protective orders against Johnson. Pine says protective orders are legal documents meant to keep abusers away from their victims and if the abuser comes near the victim, the victim can call police. However, she says sometimes, there is a delay in the process.
“Finding the abuser or the perpetrator to serve that protective order can sometimes be tricky, particularly when the abuse and victim live together,” Pine said.
And sometimes the paper isn’t respected, and it’s just too late. Pine says even when protective orders work, it doesn’t mean criminal charges will stick.
“If somebody is really after somebody, it’s not going to keep you completely safe,” Pine said. “The difficult thing for prosecutors is that you have to have a willing victim who wants to prosecute that case.”
Additionally, of the more than 3,000 domestic violence arrests made in Hampton Roads in the last five years, not all victims want to prosecute, including Bellamy Gamboa, before her death.
Colin Stolle is the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Virginia Beach and he has dealt with his fair share of domestic violence cases.
“You have victims who simply don’t want to leave the relationship for a variety of reasons.”
According to Stolle, he and his team are not required to prosecute domestic violence cases.
“I think you’ll find that most prosecutors do in fact provide a prosecutor to domestic violence cases because they are so very complicated,” said Stolle.
Prosecution isn’t always easy, according to Paul Powers, a prosecutor who specializes in domestic violence.
“There are so many different factors involved — housing arrangements, jobs, putting food on the table. Each situation we have to look at uniquely and differently as to what the needs are for not just the victim but the family as a whole,” Powers said.
From the justice system, to organizations like the YWCA, there is help, like immediate shelter. Counselors even have safety plan tips when a protective order is in place. According to Stolle, victims need to be willing to ask.
As for Gamboa, she had the courage to call 911, the courage to file protective orders. However, we’ve also learned she was in a reoccurring cycle of domestic violence – one that ultimately cost this mother of four her life.
The family of Gamboa says the trial date for Johnson is June 26.
Whether you are a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking or human trafficking, help is available with a 24 hour hotline. Call the Coordinate Crisis Response Hotline: 757-251-0144. In 2018, more than 10,000 people called the hotline.
Resources for Hampton Roads:
YWCA of Southampton Roads: https://www.ywca-shr.org/
The Samaritan House: https://samaritanhouseva.org/
Resources for Hampton Roads and Beyond: http://www.avaloncenter.org/about-us
National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/