Domestic violence restraining orders aren’t always able to protect victims

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The man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend Monday at her gift shop in Mount Gretna broke his restraining order against her.  Police say Patrick Derr was ordered to stay away from Stacey Pennington since December.  He's also scheduled to be in court Wednesday for previously harassing and assaulting her.

But even with the judge issued order, the domestic violence case ended tragically.

Stacey Pennington was supposed to be protected once she filed a protection from abuse order against her ex-Patrick Derr.

Rhonda Hendrickson is the director of violence intervention and prevention at the YWCA, in Harrisburg.  She says, "Protection from abuse orders are very important parts of safety planning, but they're only a piece of it."

Hendrickson says while the order's important, it's only a piece of paper.

"Some abusers just can't let go over that power control they need over a victim.  And when there is a termination of the relationship or the abuser feels power is gone, that's when we see the fatalities," says Hendrickson.

Cornwall Police Chief Bruce Harris says most of the perpetrators abide by their court order.  But there's the small percentage of people who break the rules, which can lead to criminal contempt charges. And in some cases, the order is broken the moment they use a firearm.

"That is always a condition of the order.  If the person has firearms, they must surrender them to the sheriff.  If when the sheriff served the order, they most likely would have followed up with that to see if there were any weapons in the house or any he owned," says Harris.

Domestic violence prevention experts say the problem is pervasive and a public health concern.  Urging victims to seek additional help from agencies like the YWCA.

Hendrickson says, "We can't guarantee someone's safety, but we can provide tools and options and let the victim decide which of them are going to help them be as safe as they can possible be."

Derr remains in critical condition at Hershey Medical Center.  As many continue to seek answers.

Hendrickson says, "You're going to have a lot of people grieving.  A Community friends, children grown up without their mom."