The law would require tracking for some domestic violence suspects
VANCOUVER — In the hours after the killing of Tiffany Hill at the hands of her estranged husband in the parking lot of Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School on Nov. 26, a surreal scene unfolded inside the school.
It included birthday cake, pizza, and blue and pink Gatorade.
Teachers and friends, stunned and grieving inside, put on a brave face to help the couple’s youngest child, now an orphan, celebrate her fifth birthday.
“The day their parents were killed,” said Melissa Nelson, a teacher at the school. “The day Tiffany Hill was murdered.”
“What started out as a beautiful respite from real life — celebrating a birthday with princess movies and friends — ended up as the day their baby will forever remember as the day dad killed mom,” added Isaiah Knight who, along with his wife Karena, took the three Hill children into their home for two weeks following the murder.
Knight recalled the couple’s son crying himself to sleep each night in their bed, while the girls clung to each other in the next room, refusing to let go.
Nelson, Knight, and others who knew Tiffany Hill well, gathered last week in Olympia to testify in front of the Senate Crime and Justice Committee in support of SB 5149. This is the third year Senator Lynda Wilson (R-Vancouver) has introduced the bill.
“And this time around with this bill, I would like to honor Tiffany’s memory by naming the bill after her,” Wilson told the committee. “I’ve always believed that this technology could save lives.”
SB 5149 would require anyone facing domestic abuse allegations with a no contact order to wear a tracking device that would alert an app on the victim’s phone if the suspect comes within 1,000 feet.
“When I heard about this tragedy I just sank in my seat,” said Wilson.”If only this technology, the electronic monitoring with real-time notification, had been available for Tiffany, it might have been enough to save her life.”
Rene Sundby, who served on the Parent Teacher Association with Hill, said the no contact order obtained on Sept. 11 by Hill against her husband, Keland, seemed to do nothing to deter him from trying to contact her.
“For 64 days in a row he violated that,” Sundby told the committee. “He texted her daily, multiple text messages. She did not block those text messages because she wanted to use them as evidence for the sheriff’s department.”
Knight says he installed cameras in Tiffany’s house, and watched her be consumed by worry as Keland hovered around, even appearing in person several times.
“She always told us, he’s gonna kill me,” recalled Knight. “It’s the only way he’ll stop. I know that’s going to happen.”
Nelson said she heard the gunshots in the parking lot from her classroom. Even as she waited to see what was happening, she had a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“I remember seeing on my computer screen when the lockdown alarm went off saying ‘school shooting, shooting in the parking lot,’” said Nelson. “I immediately knew that it was Tiffany Hill.”
After the terrible news was confirmed, Knight and his wife rushed to the school where teachers did their best to keep the childrens’ minds off the unimaginable scene that had played out in front of them. They waited, and hoped against hope that Tiffany might somehow pull through.
“What I will remember most are the wails of indescribable agony from their children,” Knight told the committee, “as the detective told them that their father had killed the mother, and then killed himself.”
Knight recalled that he and his wife, who had become close friends with Tiffany, learned of the abuse that had gone back 10 years, following the couple from North Carolina, to Maine, and eventually to Vancouver. Keland, said Knight, bragged to him about infidelities, then threatened to harm him if he ever told Tiffany.
Knight’s first instinct, he said, was to run away, or confront Keland with what they knew of his abuse. Then he realized that would put Tiffany in even greater danger.
“So I had to keep my mouth shut, toe the line,” Knight said. “Pretend to be his brother that so she would not be hurt.”
Tiffany reported Keland’s abuse to police on Sept. 11, leading to his arrest and subsequent release. Investigators eventually learned the former Marine had attempted to purchase a gun in Oregon, and had installed a tracking device on Tiffany’s van. He was re-arrested, with bail set at $250,000 — far less than the $2 million requested by prosecutors.
“Keland Hill had waited for Tiffany in the parking lot of Sarah J. Anderson Elementary for about 30 minutes before she came out,” testified Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Lauren Boyd. “This technology would have allowed Tiffany to know that he was there, know that she needed to take actions to be safe, and could have alerted the police and they maybe, hopefully, could have prevented this tragedy from happening.”
Tracking technology for domestic abuse suspects is widely used in New Zealand, along with several states. Wilson noted over 500 victims in Illinois currently use it.
“If we can give victims of domestic violence any form of peace of mind and a feeling of some control back in their lives,” said WIlson, “this could be it and it should be.”
Wilson’s bill was passed by the full Senate in 2018, but stalled in the House of Representatives. In 2019, SB 5149 stalled in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, but today the chair of the Law and Justice Committee pushed the bill straight to the Rules Committee, which sets the calendar for bills to be heard in front of the full Senate.
“I really hope we can get this bill all the way through to the House,” Wilson told committee members prior to Thursday’s vote. “At the very best it can save lives and at the very least it can give the victims of domestic violence some control and some sense of peace in their lives.”
“She had done exactly what she was supposed to do,” Sundby had testified. “We’re all trying to navigate the PTSD from that day, as well as the months before, and our grief. So I beg you please consider Tiffany in passing SB 5149.”