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As Woman, Sons Are Mourned, D.C. Mayor Calls for Attention to Domestic Violence

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009; B04

More than 1,000 people paid their respects yesterday to a District mother and her two sons, whose violent deaths last month have sparked a renewed focus by city officials and residents on domestic violence.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty was among those who filed past the caskets at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church that held the bodies of Erika Peters, 37, and her sons Erik Harper, 11, and Dakota Peters, 10.

D.C. police have charged Peters's boyfriend, Joseph R. Mays, in the slayings, which occurred March 21.

"It doesn't get any more tragic than this," said Fenty (D). "The investigation is ongoing, but there is really a need for more education and more involvement regarding the issue of domestic violence on the police level, the social service level and the community level."

The deaths have brought more scrutiny to the D.C. Office of Child and Family Services, which had been contacted about the family by relatives who reported that Mays, 44, had been abusing Peters and the children.

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said that Erika Peters "didn't fall between the cracks."

"We received the hotline call in the fall of 2006, and Children and Family Services performed services and put the family in contact with a Medicaid provider for mental health counseling. The case file was closed in 2007 because the family seemed to establish some stability."

At the funeral, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and other speakers reflected on the life of a woman who became the city's youth mayor as a high school student, a leader in the deaf community and a dancer who went from New York's Apollo Theater to an inaugural event for President Obama. Peters's sons were remembered by their football coaches and teachers.

"I feel personally that my boy Dakota was ready," a nun from Holy Redeemer Catholic School said during the service. She said that the day before he died, Dakota delivered a report on the book of Genesis. Upon completion, he said, "Now are there any questions?"

Thomas said of Peters, "She was the youth mayor that I worked for."

Norton said, "We need to keep on giving to this family."

Maryka Gaither, whose sister was killed in November, attended the service. Her sister's estranged boyfriend is suspected in the death.

"It is so tragic to keep going through this," Gaither said.

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