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2 Valley murders in one day highlight rise in domestic violence cases

Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic has kept victims with their abusers and away from needed lifelines.

PHOENIX — Two murders in the Valley on Saturday highlight the growing problem of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic in Arizona.

Arizona has seen a rise in the number of domestic violence-related homicides during the pandemic. Phoenix alone saw a more than 175% increase in 2020 compared to 2019. 

“We’ve been hearing them for months now and it’s heartbreaking," Linda Scott with the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Phoenix said. 

Phoenix police said Carnell Cunningham shot and killed his 23-year-old girlfriend Mikayla Ballesteros before their car crashed into a home around 3:30 p.m. Saturday near 43rd Avenue and Bethany Home Road.

Hours later, there was another domestic violence homicide on Interstate 10 near 91st Avenue. 

“The first thing that goes through my mind is, 'My gosh, we lost another one,'” Scott said. 

“In 2020, we saw 102 domestic violence fatalities in Arizona,” Jenna Panas, the CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said.

"Every single one of those is an individual that did not need to lose her life."

Experts said there are a multitude of reasons behind the increase in domestic violence-related murders, from lost jobs to not knowing what resources are available. 

However, a major reason is isolation: It has kept victims with abusers and away from available lifelines. 

Scott said there are resources available, but getting them to those in need is part of the challenge.

“The difficulty has been getting to folks and getting them to safety,” Scott said.

If you are someone you know needs help you can visit the Domestic Violence Victim Assistance in Greater Phoenix website.

There is also the national domestic violence support hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233). 

You can also access state resources here.