Rachel Louise Snyder has written about child brides in Romania, abused women in India, the forced sterilization of women in Tibet, and violence against women in Cambodia and Niger.
When she returned to Washington in 2009 after years of covering human rights abuses overseas, Snyder began a deep-dive investigation of the alarming and growing epidemic of domestic violence in this country. The result: “No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us.” In Snyder’s book, we learn that 50 women are fatally shot by their partners every month in the United States, and that the most dangerous place to be a woman in this country is at home.
But Snyder had to put her book tour on hold this week when the violence she has been chronicling for years suddenly shook her own Northwest Washington social circle.
Snyder knew Lola Gulomova, 45, and Jason Rieff, 51, for years. The couple were part of her network of parent friends, always there for play dates and drop-offs and school events at Janney Elementary, where their fifth-grader was a close friend of Snyder’s daughter.
On Friday morning, Gulomova and Rieff, career Foreign Service officers, were scheduled to be in D.C. Superior Court to finalize a contentious divorce. Instead, police said, Rieff killed Gulomova and then turned the gun on himself in their American University Park home.
Snyder searched for the right words to explain to her 11-year-old daughter what had happened.
“I had to tell my daughter that her friend’s daddy killed her friend’s mommy, then killed himself,” Snyder said.
Her daughter knew right away how: “With a gun,” she said.
“This has been one of the hardest weekends of my life,” Snyder tweeted Sunday night.
“To suddenly live a #dvhomicide in real time with people you care about deeply while you’re in the middle of a tour for a book on #dvhomicide is almost too much to bear. Most of my book events this week have been cancelled.”
Snyder, who has been friends with Rieff’s sister for decades, had been worried about him.
“He lost custody of the kids, he was isolating, living in the basement of the house,” she said. But while she thought he might harm himself, she never imagined he would kill Gulomova.
In her book, Snyder recounts horrifying stories of women in the kind of controlling relationships that lead to deadly violence.
Rieff had stopped going to court appointments and hearing dates, somehow hoping the divorce proceeding “would just go away,” she said. But aside from the depression and isolation, he didn’t show the classic signs that he was a danger to Gulomova.
When Snyder was writing her book, she broke down at one point and sobbed for 10 days, she told my colleague E.J. Graff, who talked to her for her review. The stories were so devastating, the breadth, cruelty and everyday-ness of the abuse, the threats, the killing so intense, that Snyder had to take a break from the work.
She finished the book, received stellar reviews and embarked on a tour to spread the word about the silent, growing American epidemic.
Now she’s sobbing again. She has never been this close to the kind of lethal nightmare she has been reporting for so long.
The graduation ceremony for Janney’s fifth-graders was scheduled for Friday evening, so Snyder had taken time off from the book tour so she could be there.
After the deaths, the graduation ceremony was postponed. Instead, grief counselors are at the school this week.
In her book, Snyder writes about the far-reaching effect that domestic violence — often hidden inside the walls of a home for years, decades even — has on families, friends, children and communities.
And then she had to live those words. Before she told her 11-year-old what had happened, “I looked at my daughter’s smiling little face and thought, ‘This face is going to change in 15 minutes. And it’s never going to be the same.’ ”
It did. It has changed everything for all of them.
Read more Petula Dvorak: