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The youngest victims of domestic violence, innocent children are often overlooked | Jenice Armstrong

Too often, they are often tiny, silent witnesses of domestic violence incidents and the damage can be long-lasting.

Shronda Lyons and her son, Tyler Madison Mulligan, were killed Dec. 22, 2018 in a double-murder suicide.
Shronda Lyons and her son, Tyler Madison Mulligan, were killed Dec. 22, 2018 in a double-murder suicide.Read moreHandout

It was a brisk, cold day, just three days before last Christmas.

Tyler Madison Mulligan, 17, was in the backseat of a car driven by his mother, Shronda Candy Lyons.

A confrontation broke out between Lyons and her boyfriend, and he shot Tyler twice in the face, fatally wounding him. Family members believe the charismatic teen, who loved fashion and dreamed of traveling, had been trying to protect his 35-year-old mother, who also was mortally wounded on Dec. 22, 2018. After the slayings, the gunman reportedly stepped outside of the vehicle at 10th and French in North Philadelphia, just off Temple University’s campus, and killed himself.

John Mulligan, a local fire marshal, learned what had happened to his son after flipping on the TV news that evening. Since then, he’s been so full of pent-up anger that he has only allowed two tears to slip down his face.

“The pain for our family has been at times almost completely unbearable, but we will not let this tremendous pain defeat us,” Mulligan wrote on Instagram. “We will not let his death be in vain. We will educate this country on domestic violence, so no other family has to suffer.”

The family has created the Tyler Madison Project to raise awareness and also award college and trade-school scholarships to young domestic abuse survivors.

Because abuse isn’t always between intimate partners.

It also impacts children.

Too often, they are tiny, silent witnesses of domestic violence incidents, and the damage can be long-lasting. And that’s something people don’t pay enough attention to. Women Against Abuse has a domestic violence awareness program for teens that it takes to fewer than a dozen local schools. It needs to be everywhere.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which began Tuesday, needs to be promoted as much as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, because an estimated 15.5 million children in the United States grow up in a home in which there’s intimate partner violence.

“The sad thing is that no one is talking to the children about this. No one is talking to middle schoolers. No one is talking to high schoolers saying, ‘Hey, domestic violence isn’t just between you and an intimate partner,’” said Candida Mulligan, Tyler’s stepmother. “Domestic violence is domestic violence — be it your parent, be it you in a relationship, be it a friend in a relationship. And we need to start realizing what is domestic violence, and we need to start reporting it.”

Candida knows what she’s talking about. Even before Tyler lost his life, she had been a victim of domestic violence. Her former boyfriend and the father of two of her children had repeatedly abused her and threatened her life before killing himself in 2015. The story was chronicled in a 2015 Daily News cover story. Candida had even shared her story with Lyons to try to warn her.

“I said to her, ‘You know I’ve been there before. I hope you know that this is just a cycle. Guys like him don’t change,’" Candida recalled. "I said, ‘Be very careful, because they can act right for three months and the next thing you know, one thing could set him off.’

“For me, my kids telling me they couldn’t take it anymore was all I needed to hear,” she added. “For her, the kids told her how they felt about this guy. She attempted to leave him numerous times.”

In the end, though, nothing was enough to save Tyler.

The Mulligans hope the Tyler Madison Project will do for others what they couldn’t do for their own.