‘The cost of love shouldn’t be death.’
On Feb. 15, Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Rekully went to 7417 Midway Terrace, Apt. E, in Silver Springs Shores, in reference to a call about domestic violence.
Alexis “Ali” Waranka told Rekully she was gathering some clothing when her ex-boyfriend, Gregory Briseno, put his hands around her neck and pushed her into a wall. She said he left when she called 911.
In his report, Rekully wrote that although he did not see any marks or injury on Waranka’s neck, he referred her to the State Attorney’s Office and told her he would check on her later.
Elizabeth Long, a victim advocate with the Sheriff’s Office, then contacted Waranka, who said that Briseno had been threatening her and that she did not feel safe at home.
Long said she talked with Waranka about seeking a court-ordered injunction for protection, and about legal services and other assistance that was available to her.
When Rekully checked on Waranka later, she told him she did not want to contact prosecutors and had decided against pursuing any charges against Briseno. She told the deputy she wanted the case closed, but she was going to contact the courthouse about obtaining an injunction against Briseno.
On March 14, a little more than two weeks after Rekully submitted his report about Waranka deciding not to meet with personnel at the State Attorney’s Office, she and her boyfriend, Ryan Young, were found shot to death in her Silver Springs Shores apartment.
Sheriff’s detectives said Briseno, 29, had entered the apartment and shot Waranka, 26, and Young, 30. Not long afterward, inside a car not far away, Briseno was found dead of what detectives said was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“I strongly encouraged her to get an injunction because he was threatening her, but she never did,” Long said in an interview with the Star-Banner. “Domestic violence is all about control. With each incident, it gets worst.”
So far this year, there have been eight domestic violence deaths in Marion County. In all of 2017 there were six.
That count includes a man who killed himself, his girlfriend and their child earlier this month in the Ocala National Forest.
The number of deaths so far in 2018 is the highest in five years. Among the eight deaths were an unborn baby and a 13-month-old girl.
Statistics from victim advocates with the Sheriff’s Office and the Ocala Police Department indicate that, nationwide:
• 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner
• 1 in 5 teens will be a victim of dating violence before high school graduation
• About 20 elderly people die every week in Florida from domestic homicide/suicide
Figures from the Marion County Children’s Alliance Family Violence Prevention Workgroup, which tracks domestic violence incidents and provides resources and assistance to victims, show that the number of documented cases reported to the Sheriff’s Office yearly since 2013 has not dipped below 1,500. For the city of Ocala, the number has not decreased beyond 500 annually during that time.
From 2013 to 2017, the Sheriff’s Office and OPD received more than 12,500 reports of domestic violence. There were 27 deaths.
Long said local domestic violence victims generally are age 25 to 45. About 60 percent of the victims are women.
Brochures and handouts provided by local officials address domestic violence, talk about signs of abuse, and offer statistics, and information about who to call, how victims can obtain an injunction, and ways to escape unsafe situations. According to the pamphlets, physical, emotional/verbal and sexual abuse are examples of domestic abuse. An abuser can be a spouse, former spouse, relative or friend.
Donna Guinn, a victim advocate at OPD, said domestic violence often starts with verbal abuse, which over time leads to physical abuse.
“It’s one of the most under-reported crimes, and the No. 1 cause of injury to women,” Guinn said.
Victim advocates said warning signs include isolation from family and friends, the abuser breaking objects, the abuser lashing out for no reason, baseless accusations, and monitoring the victim’s movements.
The advocates said if the abuse escalates, the victim can request an injunction and a victim advocate can assist him or her in filling out the application. Once a temporary injunction is granted or a hearing date is set, the victim can get a referral to legal aid for a lawyer to represent them at no charge.
The Sheriff’s Office also has what is called the Shield program, in which domestic abuse offenders wear an ankle monitoring device that alerts deputies if they come too close to their victim.
The advocates say that any victim who feels they cannot safely remain at their residence should have a kit that should be kept confidential and away from the abuser. Items to put in the safety kit include a set of spare keys, clothes, important papers, cash and medication.
“We know it’s not easy for someone to leave an abusive situation, especially when they still love the person. But when there are warning signs and the abuse continues to escalate or the abuser threatens to harm them or themselves, the victim needs to reach out for help and not wait, hoping the person will change,” said Monica Bryant, coordinator of the children’s alliance workgroup. “If we continue to ignore this problem and not address it, it will only get worse.”
• • •
In some instances, according to local authorities, a victim of domestic violence will remain with the abuser because of an illness or a fear that if they leave the abuser will commit suicide.
In early February in Marion County, Michael John Zeps, 40, shot and killed his wife, Elizabeth, 38, and then killed himself. They were found dead in their bedroom by their children.
A Sheriff’s Office report states that the couple and their children had moved here from Wisconsin several months before to make a new beginning.
Relatives told detectives that Michael Zeps was “very hard to please,” suffered from depression and anxiety, had “anger issues,” and was insecure. They said he talked about killing himself.
Detectives were told that Elizabeth Zep had said she would not leave her husband because she thought if she did, he would kill himself.
“The cost of love shouldn’t be death,” Guinn said.
• • •
Jenny Ramirez, Waranka’s mother, said her daughter and Briseno had an on-again, off-again relationship. She said she did not know about the incident in February, but she had recognized signs of abuse and got pamphlets for her daughter and also had her sister talk to her about the situation.
“She thought she could handle it. I really think she didn’t realize that he would do anything to her,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez said she is grieving over her daughter’s death and wants parents to talk to their children and be there for them.
A day after the deaths were discovered, public vigils were held for Waranka and Young.
Troy Waranka talked about his daughter and paying close attention to dating violence. He called Briseno a coward because of his insecurities. He also said he had not been aware of the February report filed by his daughter.
David Young, the father of Ryan Young, said his son began dating Waranka when they worked together at AMF Galaxy West Lanes in Ocala. He said she later left and was working at Earth Fare.
He said his son never talked about Briseno or any problems Waranka had with her ex-boyfriend. Young said the week before his son died, however, Ryan mentioned that Waranka told him that Briseno had “flipped out.”
“Any time a man puts his hands on a woman, he’s a coward,” Young said.
In Ryan Young’s obituary in Tuesday’s Star-Banner, the family included this statement: “His family requests that in his memory, if you or someone you know is experiencing dating violence, please SPEAK UP!!”
• • •
On Tuesday, in a phone conversation with the mother of Briseno, who did not wish to have her name used for this article, she said “everyone is hurting, their families as well as ours.”
“I loved Ali as if she were my own daughter,” she said.
She said her son never showed any signs of violence and was always “laughing, smiling, joking around.”
She said he “loved to see others smile also. And he loved her dearly.”
Briseno’s sister, who would only give her name as Laura, said, “My prayers go out to the victims’ families because they’re hurting as much as I am.”
She said her brother was “not a monster” and was a “great uncle.”
“He had a heart of gold. He would give you the shirt off his back. He was my rock, my role model, and it hurts me to know that he’s no longer with us,” she added.