Ernestine Bunn-Dyson was a faithful member of a church, the kind whose members look out for and take care of each other when they are sick or need help.

Sadly, however, help never came for Bunn-Dyson, whose fellow church members did not know of or were not aware of the extent of the abusive relationship she was in until it was too late.

"She suffered silently, praying, hoping and wishing that her marriage would improve," said Bunn-Dyson's sister, Debra Williams. "But a change didn't come in time for her."

In March 2003, Bunn-Dyson, 32, was shot to death at her Oxon Hill home by her estranged husband, who then killed himself, police said, less than 24 hours after he promised in court not to go near her. Bunn-Dyson's killing was one of dozens of domestic abuse cases recorded in Prince George's County, which is second only to Baltimore County in the number of people killed by spouses or parents in the state since July 1998, according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

The disturbing number of domestic violence cases recently led county State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey to call on the faith community, as well as citizens, to get involved or tell someone if they believe that a loved one or friend is being mistreated. He underscored that point last week after the fatal shooting of a District man in what police called a domestic disturbance.

According to police, Patrick B. Elliott, 35, was shot by his sister's husband after months of fighting between Elliot's sister, Robin, and her husband, Donald J. Peters. Police said last Thursday, Elliott went to the Chillum apartment his sister shared with her husband. The two men argued and shots were fired. Peters, 39, is facing first-degree murder charges.

The Rev. Almeta Bowman, associate minister of Maple Springs Baptist Church in Capitol Heights, where Ivey spoke recently, agreed that the church has a role but said that many women don't know how to deal with domestic violence.

"A lot of women have been battered and are scarred because there are deep roots of fear in them that no one has really addressed," Bowman said.

The Rev. Benjamin Broadnax, administrative assistant to Maple Springs' pastor, the Rev. Larry Jordan, added that churches need to dispense clinical help just as they do spiritual help.

"Just like in a hospital, you have to tell the doctor what is wrong," Broadnax said. "We need to tell what is wrong with our marriages and our relationships so we can find deliverance. So we can find peace."

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey has asked churches to help curb abuse.Debra Williams, whose sister was a victim of domestic violence, speaks at the opening of a shelter for battered women in Fort Washington.The Ark of Safety Christian Church in Fort Washington recently opened a shelter for battered women to help the fight against domestic violence.