Advocates criticize time it took to confirm Harrow, Ont., mom, 2 kids died from intimate partner violence

WARNING: This story contains discussion of intimate partner violence and suicide.

Advocates working to raise awareness about domestic abuse say they're devastated to learn that the deaths of a family in their Harrow, Ont., home last month were the result of intimate partner violence.

On Saturday, police confirmed that Carly Walsh and her two children were fatally shot and her husband, Steve, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Their bodies were found June 20.

Fartumo Kusow called the incident a tragedy. Her daughter, Sahra Bulle, was killed a year ago and her estranged husband was arrested, although the charges haven't been proven in court.

Kusow spoke to CBC's Windsor Morning host, Amy Dodge, about how she felt learning about the circumstances surrounding the Walshes' deaths.

"It was this gut feeling that this, like all the other tragedies [of intimate partner violence], could have been avoided," Kusow said.

Carly, 41, Madison, 13, and Hunter, 8, died of gunshots wounds, Sgt. Ed Sanchuk said in a video posted to Ontario Provincial Police West Region's social media accounts. Steve, the children's father, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Sanchuk said.

LISTEN | Fartumo Kusow talks about intimate partner violence, link to Harrow deaths:

The deaths serve as a reminder to Kusow of the scale of intimate partner violence across Ontario.

"The challenge is that these are pervasive. They're not one-and-done events and we know that."

In Ontario, advocates have been pushing for intimate partner violence to be declared an epidemic; members of provincial parliament (MPPs) also voted to support the declaration.

Between November 2023 and May 2024, there were 25 femicides, according to the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH). Since 2018, the number of women killed in the province has jumped by 68 per cent according to OAITH.

"It really is a wake-up call, I think, for everybody to pay attention [to intimate partner violence]," says Sylvie Guenther, executive director of Hiatus House, a Windsor emergency shelter that provides support to women and their families experiencing intimate partner violence.

Acknowledging such violence 'long overdue'

Julie Lalonde, a women's rights advocate in Ottawa, said police acknowledgment of intimate partner violence in the Harrow case felt "long overdue" as it took 16 days for police to release that information.

"It was definitely, definitely frustrating to see the police really dragging their feet on naming what the community knew right away," says Lalonde. "If the police are not even willing to name that reality, they're reinforcing this idea that there's absolutely nothing we can do."

In their video announcing the Walshes' cause of death, police encouraged anyone experiencing intimate partner violence to contact Ontario Victims Services.

But Lalonde said they missed an opportunity to raise awareness about intimate partner violence and how to get help by waiting to label this instance as such.

Forensic investigators at the Walsh family home, 1200 County Road 13 near Harrow, on June 20, 2024.
Forensic investigators at the Walsh family home at 1200 County Road 13 near Harrow on June 20. (Dalson Chen/CBC)

Guenther said discussing intimate partner violence is an important part of stopping the problem. Women are often told to keep family affairs private, which prevents them from telling others about abuse they're experiencing and getting help before there's a tragedy, Guenther said.

"We want to end that and make sure that people can talk about it so that we can intervene more quickly before it gets [to] the extreme case where there's loss of life."

24-hour crisis line available to get help

For anyone in Windsor-Essex experiencing intimate partner violence, Guenther said, Hiatus House has a 24-hour crisis line for victims or those who know someone experiencing abuse. Staff taking calls can help identify an abusive situation, what the person's options are for getting out of one and how to stay safe while trying to leave an abusive relationship.

Hiatus House also has 42 shelter beds, for women and families who need a temporary place to stay while leaving an abusive household.

Before leaving such a situation, Lalonde said, safety planning is crucial. It includes having cash so an abusive partner can't block payments made using money from a shared account, or switching to an independent phone plan as opposed to a shared one so the abusive partner can't get in touch.

Lalonde also said a cultural shift around men's mental health is needed.

"We need to talk about the crisis of mental health in this country, and in particular, how men are discouraged from accessing help."

She said men who are feeling mentally unwell should seek help. She also encourages loved ones to be on the lookout for men acting "volatile" in their relationships and to flag behaviour that seems "off" before it escalates into violence.

When intimate partner violence does happen, Kusow said, more support is needed from the government for family left behind, like herself, and if individuals know someone who has lost a loved one to intimate partner violence, the best thing to do is offer support.

"It's finding support for the family, and walking with them and telling them, [saying] 'we see you, we hear you,'" said Kusow.

For anyone affected by family or intimate partner violence, there is support available through crisis lines and local support services. If you're in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:

  • Those in the Windsor-Essex area of Ontario can also call Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare's 24-hour crisis line: 519-973-4435.