BAY COUNTY — On one night, a man took aim at his one-time romantic interest and her new boyfriend. On another, a man doused his sister-in-law with lighter fluid and attempted to set her ablaze.
In the two weeks in eastern Bay County since Hurricane Michael, the unprecedented storm has stirred up many ugly scenes of domestic violence. Numerous arrests and at least one death have resulted in the community, already robust with domestic violence. And many dark cases might have yet to see the light of day.
“I think there are several we didn’t have the ability to receive,” said Bay County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Amy Burkette. “Because of the lack of communications in those first days, there were even people with serious injuries we couldn’t hear from. So, it’s likely there are many more we don’t know about.”
Burkette, of the Domestic Violence Unit, has been on the night patrol for the east side of Bay County since Hurricane Michael swept away the area’s utility infrastructure. While water and cellphone service has been widely restored in the area, many homes have yet to receive power. And as a result of the combined conditions, domestic violence has spiked.
BCSO Lt. Koren Colbert, supervisor of the Domestic Violence Unit, said the crimes that ensue after a major disaster typically occur in phases. First come thefts of resources, then come domestic violence and the final blow to the community comes in the form of scams. In the domestic calls officers have seen recently, conditions of lacking communication, running water and power have conspired with living in confined quarters with family members, Colbert said.
“It’s the stress,” she said. “I also think that people think law enforcement is busy with other matters, so they may be more emboldened.”
Drugs and alcohol often play a factor in the 250 arrests for domestic violence the county averages each month. With the added factors, officers are seeing a month that should outpace that average.
In the most recent incident, Charles Bruner, 66, was arrested on charges of aggravated domestic battery, violation of a restraining order and attempted arson. Officials reported Bruner was at his brother’s home Sunday night in eastern Bay County when he doused his sister-in-law with lighter fluid and then tried to set her on fire.
A fight ensued, with Bruner allegedly brandishing a knife against his brother, and he was unsuccessful at igniting the fuel. Officers arrived some time later, and Bruner was taken to the Bay County Jail.
Nights earlier, a man — whose name was not immediately available — held his former romantic interest and her current boyfriend at gunpoint, threatening their lives. He fired two shots at both of them, missed and later was taken to jail on two counts of attempted murder, officials reported.
In Panama City last week, officers responded to what authorities believe to be a murder-suicide. A husband and wife were found dead from gunshot wounds in their SweetBay home. Police are not looking for a shooter.
Days before that, officers responded to a shooting on Alpine Way in Callaway Heights where a child custody struggle resulted in a gunshot wound to the head. Christopher King was arrested in connection with shooting the boyfriend of his estranged wife. The victim was said to be stable but needs surgery to remove the bullet from his head. King will be charged afterward.
Because communications have been down for officers, details from reports are not readily available. In recent days, the reports officers have documented in their cars have begun to slowly make their way to the hands of domestic violence investigators, Colbert said.
They will begin the process of looking into the backgrounds of suspects for a variety of factors for red flags to determine priority. Those include recent histories of escalating violence, possessiveness and cruelty to animals.
Colbert said domestic violence is a complex issue the county faces. She suggested that relatives forced to be in close quarters by the conditions left by Hurricane Michael take a breather from one another when tensions run high. Volunteering also can gain perspective and relieve anxiety for those is seemingly dire situations.
“Try to do something productive,” Colbert said. “Help others in need instead of feeling sorry for yourself and taking it out on your spouse.”