BEATRICE, NE — Gage County residents are trying to make sense of tragedy.
After news of an apparent murder-suicide shook the community on Tuesday, some are raising questions. Could more have been done to help protect Brooke Koch?
Koch and Jason Arnold were already known to law enforcement when officers converged on the scene at a rural home south of Beatrice on Tuesday. Arnold was scheduled to appear in court on stalking and terroristic threats charges that morning. Instead, police say he shot his ex-girlfriend and then turned the gun on himself.
Arnold was violating a domestic abuse protection order simply by appearing at the house. Koch applied for the order on January 8, requesting the court to prohibit Arnold from communicating with her, order him to stay away from her house, grant her temporary custody for their shared daughter and prohibit him from possessing or buying a gun. The order was served three days later.
Gage County Attorney Roger Harris says protection orders help law enforcement to act immediately during domestic disputes.
“They don’t have to make decisions as far as what’s going on here," Harris said. "If somebody is at a place they’re not supposed to be, if they’re engaging in conduct that’s prohibited by a court order, they can immediately affect an arrest and put them in jail.”
In her protection order petition, Koch said Arnold threatened to shoot her on Christmas Eve and said “bang, bang to ya” when they met a week later.
The Sheriff’s Office later interviewed Koch, her family and a friend and requested the criminal charges. That case was moving forward, but Harris says the court isn’t the ultimate solution.
“It does very little good to just throw somebody in jail for 30 days and not try to give them the tools they need to resolve the tensions and problems that are going on between the parties,” Harris said.
The tools include recommending counseling and referring victims to the Gage County Victim Assistance Program, which is housed in the Beatrice Police Station. Victim Advocate Marty Seymour says she helped Koch file the protection order paperwork. The program can keep a victim’s personal information hidden or set up a victim in a safe house, but Seymour said those options didn’t fit this case.
Harris says it appeared the two were trying to get things resolved.
“One of the things we look at is to make sure the situation is not made worse by law enforcement becoming involved," Harris said. "We’re here to protect and serve and that’s what we try to do. We look at the long-term situation that’s evolved between parties.”
Seymour says you just can’t anticipate some situations. Still, Harris says his office is reviewing how it handled this case to see if it missed anything.