Suspect sought in slaying

New Orleans police are searching for a man who authorities said killed his estranged girlfriend’s mother and then shot his girlfriend Monday in what marked the third homicide involving domestic violence in as many days.

Keith Phillips, 22, is wanted for second-degree murder and aggravated battery after police say he shot Tiesha Nix, 40, in the head when she came to pick up her daughter from an eastern New Orleans apartment complex on Parc Brittany Drive around 10 p.m.

According to police, Phillips and the daughter were arguing, when the woman called Nix because she was concerned that the argument might involve violence. When Nix arrived, police said Phillips shot her in the head without warning before turning to fire on her daughter. He then fled on foot.

Nix died at the scene, and her daughter was taken to a local hospital in critical condition. Detective Candace Preston was able to develop Phillips as a suspect through the help of a witness, police said.

Nix’s family gathered at her Waggaman home on Tuesday but declined to discuss the incident.

Phillips is the second man accused of killing a domestic partner since Saturday. Police already were searching for Larry Haynes, 38, who is accused of shooting his girlfriend Tiara Reynolds, 32, and three other people outside of a home on South Roman Street early Saturday morning. Police also investigated a homicide involving domestic violence on South Miro Street. In that incident, police said Jerell Miller, 35, stabbed and beat two women but was killed during the altercation. That incident has been ruled a justifiable homicide.

Domestic violence has been in the news nationally after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher reportedly shot his girlfriend and then killed himself last week. Louisiana has long struggled with domestic violence, and several studies have shown that the state has one of the highest rates of men killing women in the nation.

Sgt. Rick Pari, with the NOPD’s domestic violence unit, said police have investigated 10 domestic homicides this year, the same number that were investigated in 2011. Pari said domestic violence crosses all social, racial and economic boundaries.

“Domestic violence is a huge problem nationwide,” he said.

Typically, domestic violence does not escalate to the point of murder, but when it does, it often comes as the culmination of extended abuse, Pari said. Dale Standifer, the executive director of Metropolitan Center for Women and Children, compared the situation to a frog swimming in a pot slowly being brought to boil. Often women don’t realize the danger until it’s too late, she said.

“It creeps up on people,” said Standifer, adding that men with abusive histories will often take great care to hide their pasts. “People don’t fall in love with jerks; they fall in love with nice guys.”

Both Haynes and Phillips had previous arrests for domestic violence and battery along with other charges. Pari said that sadly it is not unusual for others to get swept up in abusive explosions because abusers can become so frustrated and angry that they lash out at anyone they view as interfering, he said.

“People are in a different mindset when this is occurring,” Pari said.

Historically, the Christmas season includes a spike in the number of domestic violence incidents across the country, Standifer said. Stress levels in families rise as people try to create the “perfect” Christmas. In addition, many women are hesitant about leaving home because of a desire to have some semblance of a normal holiday.

“There’s this unrealistic expectation,” Standifer said. “I think the juxtaposition between ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and our own lives is a problem.”

Although there is no magic cure for domestic violence, one crucial step is recognizing warning signs and leaving dangerous relationships quickly, both Pari and Standifer said. Pari recommended that victims immediately seek protective orders because that establishes a paper trail documenting the abuse.

He also said they should go to the Family Justice Center in New Orleans for more detailed assistance. That center houses several organizations dedicated to assisting domestic violence victims.

“It’s kind of like one-stop shopping,” Pari said.

Standifer noted that some women are leery about reporting abuse to the police because of prior bad interactions with law enforcement. In addition, in cities with overtaxed police agencies, domestic violence can be relegated to lower priority, she said.

However, she said women can pay attention to danger signs, like a man who displays irrational jealousy or is ridiculously controlling.

Women also can be more selective in who they date and less forgiving for violent incidents. But, even with all those precautions, there is no surefire way to prevent violence, she said.

“I don’t know that anybody really knows why this happens,” Standifer said.