LOCKPORT – It was a parent’s worst nightmare – the loss of a child tragically murdered as a result of domestic violence.
For Deborah Boyer, the loss of her daughter Tina Marie Boyer nearly a decade ago prompted her to action – to help others and create a legacy of caring in her daughter’s name.
As the 10th anniversary approaches, Boyer and her family will be collecting “Pennies From Heaven” from 3 to 7 p.m. every Tuesday in July outside of the South Transit Road Walmart in Lockport, where Boyer is a longtime employee and where the daughter worked with her before her death Aug. 4, 2004.
The collection, which is new this year, is based on a poem of the same name, which says in part: “When an angel misses you, they toss a penny down. Sometimes just to cheer you up and make a smile out of your frown.”
Pennies From Heaven will also be collected in July at participating businesses, including Hillman’s Automotive, 6348 Robinson Road; AA Insurance, 347 West Ave.; and Dragonfly Tattoos, 349 West Ave.
At first, it was hard to reach out, Boyer said, but the whole family has become involved in raising funds in Tina Marie Boyer’s name, and they have raised thousands to benefit the YWCA of Niagara’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence. For the last four years, they have also held a cellphone drive at the YWCA of Niagara each Aug. 4, the anniversary of Tina Marie’s Boyer’s death.
“What is so special is that the whole family has gotten involved. It’s a multigenerational community service,” said Mary Brennan-Taylor, vice president of programs for the YWCA of Niagara. “(Deborah) has inspired these grandkids to be giving back, collecting money, collecting cellphones – whatever they can do, from the littlest one to the oldest.”
Tiana Tillotson, 7, is named in memory of her aunt who died before she was born. She has been brought up with the service to the community that honors Tina Marie Boyer’s memory, said Brennan-Taylor.
“It really is Tina’s legacy – this entire family,” Brennan-Taylor said.
After a decade, it’s still hard to believe that Tina Marie is gone, Boyer said.
She still remembers that night when she got a knock on her door.
“Someone was pounding on my door. It was Tina’s new boyfriend Ricky (who police reported had found the body that night). He said, ‘Something has happened to Tina,” said Boyer. Her son Arnold, who also heard the knock, got there first and was already at Tina Marie’s apartment, which was a few doors down from Boyer’s on Washburn Street.
“He was holding his face and told me not to go in there, but he couldn’t stop me,” Boyer said. “I went in there, and she was just lying in the bathroom. It looked like she had slipped backward and fallen. I actually took her hand and felt for her pulse, but I knew she wasn’t alive.
“I sat on the stoop for a while, and then I went home and told my husband that Tina’s gone – she’s dead.”
Police later discovered that the 30-year-old victim had been strangled and fatally stabbed by her former boyfriend Rodney T. Davis. At trial, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Boyer said her daughter had been an outgoing and bubbly woman – a friend to all. “Everybody loved her,” said Boyer, who like her daughter, had been a victim of domestic abuse.
“Tina was being abused by Rodney off and on, but she wouldn’t talk to me about it. She talked to her friends, but she would talk to me about it,” Boyer said. “I knew Tina and Rodney were in trouble, but I really didn’t look at it as escalating.”
Now she shares her cautionary tale with others.
“People who know me come to me. A woman in an abusive relationship came to me and asked me what to do. I told her to call the hotline,” Boyer said.
Brennan-Taylor said Boyer started with the cellphone drive because she thought that if her daughter had had an extra emergency cellphone in the bathroom, she could have called for help on that fateful night.
People are encouraged to donate cellphones, even those that are old and broken, on Aug. 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the YWCA, 32 Cottage St. The phones will be collected for cash or will be refurbished to hand out. Phones are then given to those at risk of domestic violence.
In September, Boyer received the YWCA of Niagara Award for Service. Brennan-Taylor said Boyer was nominated because she was so “remarkably inspirational.”
“Instead of sinking into bottomless depression, she has somehow summoned up the energy to help others on the very anniversary every year of Tina’s passing,” Brennan-Taylor said.
Boyer’s campaign has served as an inspiration.
“I had a customer, after my awards ceremony, who was shopping. She came up to my register and said, ‘I want to thank you. I got one of your cell phones and it saved me.’ And I just broke down crying,” Boyer said. “She left after that, and I never got her name, but it just hit me so hard. It does matter.”
Anyone in an abusive relationship can get help through the YWCA’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence hotline 24 hours a day by calling 433-6716 or texting 870-9727. Those in danger should call 911.