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Choices for YWCA: Becoming a safer place isn't easy

August 15. 2013 1:43AM

The head of the Manchester YWCA, site of Sunday morning's horrific murder of a 9-year-old by his own father, who then killed himself, says the man was determined. He was going to find a way to carry out his plan.

That is surely how it turned out, but it appears that more could have been done to prevent it. Certainly, more should have been done to see that it didn't happen at a facility that holds itself out as a "Supervised Visitation and Child Exchange Center."

More could have been done, given all the specific threats that the father, Muni Savyon, had made to the child's mother. A criminal threatening charge made against Savyon was dismissed in Nashua District Court because of an unspecified technicality. But a restraining order remained in effect in the child custody case, which was why the father could see the son only at supervised visits.

The order required Savyon to surrender all firearms. He denied having any. A lawyer for the mother says such orders should require police to search and seize weapons from a defendant's home. But Savyon was clearly ready to buy, beg, or steal a gun. What is most troublesome is the YWCA offering itself as a place for child visitation and exchange without consistently providing security. It says it didn't know of Savyon's threats, which is odd; but director Monica Zulauf says such threats are standard.

"We were doing what we could," she said.

We sympathize. Domestic situations are often difficult and emotionally charged. It is commendable of the YWCA to take on an important role like this. But it needs to be better prepared.

Our story yesterday noted that the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center, among other state groups, plays hosts to supervised visitation.

But it does so only with a uniformed police officer at the center during all such visitations. Every visitor gets patted down and must submit to a metal detector check.

The YWCA says it uses a metal detector "sporadically." Visitors are asked to empty their pockets, but it was unclear whether either was done in Sunday's case. YWCA head Zulauf says police are used at the YWCA only in higher-risk cases and only when the families are willing to pay for the police presence.

Funding is one reason, she said. But she said it is also about what is the best environment for the children.

"We try to have the children feel safe, and that this is a homelike environment. It's hard to do that if you have a police officer standing there."

Hard, yes. But if the YWCA, or any other organization, wants to be a measurably safer place for these highly-emotional encounters, which are a sad sign of our times, they are going to need to make many hard choices.

Public Safety Editorial

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