Janell Mora

Janell Mora accomplished many things in her life.

She gave birth to two boys, earned two master’s degrees and represented Arizona State University on student recruiting conferences in China and other countries.

But in the end, all Mora, 40, wanted was peace and safety for her two children and herself. 

After her marriage to Stephen Mora soured, she thought she had made arrangements to end the relationship amicably and had a meeting set up with Steve on Sept. 28.

The meeting never happened.

Instead, the Scottsdale Realtor, 53, is suspected of fatally shooting his wife of three years and four months on Sept. 26 as she jogged near her Mesa home at Power Road and the Loop 202, leaving her in the road.

Mora then drove to the Mesa Police Department’s downtown headquarters, where he shot himself in the head in his vehicle. He remains in the hospital in critical condition.

Detective Nik Rasheta, a Mesa police spokesman, said officers responded to a reported shooting in the 3100 block of N. Power Road “and located Janell Mora deceased on the roadway,’’ with witnesses present.

“The suspect fled the scene and called 911 to say he shot his wife and was now suicidal. He stated he was at the police station and when officers arrived at the Main Police Headquarters, they heard a single gunshot and then observed Stephen exit the vehicle bleeding profusely from a head injury.’’

Mora is expected to face homicide charges if he survives.

“She was out for a jog. He ambushed her,’’ said Amy Hall, Janell’s sister. “They were going to get together and sign some documents in a couple days. She was trying to escape the situation.’’

Hall said her sister was a devoted mother of her two boys, 8 and 9, from a previous marriage. She said Janell’s motivation was to protect her children and herself from Mora after the marriage unraveled, though she declined to elaborate.

The couple met on the dating app Tinder, in early 2016, two years after she divorced her first husband. They married on April 26, 2017 – 10 months after Mora got divorced.

At the time they were married, Janelle posted numerous pictures of their wedding, writing, “I married the most charming, kind-hearted, loving, supportive, family-oriented, handsome, hilarious and FUN man I’ve ever known."

It’s unknown how long Janell and Stephen had been living apart before he apparently decided to take his wife’s life and attempt a murder-suicide, Hall said.

“They had an agreement to mutually separate. They were going to meet,’’ Hall said. “She was smart. She was trying to get away. She was trying to get out.’’

Janell’s slaying was one of two fatal domestic violence cases in the Valley last weekend. The morning after her slaying, a Laveen woman was killed by her husband only a few minutes after police had left her home. They had answered her 911 call about her husband but he had fled by the time the officers arrived.

They told her how to file for a protection from abuse order and left. Minutes later her husband returned, shot her and then killed himself.

The two slayings occurred only a few days before the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, an annual effort in October that spotlights a chronic problem that has become worse during the pandemic.

The month is devoted to educating the public about domestic violence, encouraging people – mostly women – to leave abusive relationships and raising money to support shelters and other services focused on saving lives.

But the pandemic has given special significance to those activities.

In the East Valley and elsewhere, social service agencies say the problem has been inflamed by the social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession it ignited, increasing financial pressures as jobs vanished.

With more people working from home, there are fewer opportunities for survivors to escape, for intervention by friends and employers who might notice bruises, for family members to visit and notice something is wrong with a relationship, or even for a survivor to report abuse without an abuser overhearing the conversation.

Gordon Sims, director of philanthropy for Phoenix Sojourner Center, said Janell Mora’s murder is tragic but not surprising.

“People sometimes believe the myth of anger and being out of control. Domestic violence is actually about control,’’ Sims said. “The ultimate form of control is murder. If they can’t have them, nobody can.’’

Domestic violence also cuts across all socio-economic segments of society, he said.

“All of us as Americans say, ‘that will never happen to me,’’’ Sims said.

But that attitude is a misconception. 

“They believe that because they are educated,” he said, “they are not susceptible to it.’’

He said the breakup of a marriage in an abusive relationship is always dangerous and that Janell did nothing wrong.

“So many times, the women we work with have done everything they are supposed to do. So many times, the abuser seems to get wind of it,’’ Sims said.

He said all Maricopa County shelters are full, not only because of demand during a stressed time, but because social distancing requirements forced to a reduction in capacity. 

That eventually impacts funding, with the state Department of Economic Security reimbursing shelters only for beds used. 

Laura Bode, director of community engagement for A New Leaf, a multi-faceted Mesa social service agency, said hotlines operated by her agency get 16,000 domestic violence calls a year.

A New Leaf’s Autumn House shelter in Mesa provided a safe haven for 155 women last year, while Faith House in Glendale provided shelter for another 255. 

Another 388 survivors took refuge in a hotel that serves as an overflow shelter when necessary through the DV Stop program.

And that was before the pandemic increased stress in households, isolation of victims and aggravated an already serious problem, Bode said.

She said A New Leaf is receiving more new calls and reports of more severe threats.

“We have more callers who say, ‘he’s starting to get violent. I’m really scared for my life. Please help me,’’’ she said.

She said some callers are whispering, “hiding in a bedroom, trying to call for help’’ in the hopes their abuser won’t hear their pleas for help. 

Bode said the opportunities for women to escape from abuse are less frequent, with both the abuser and the survivor working from home. The abuse can also be harder for friends and family members to spot.

“The victims aren’t getting out and accessing their normal safety network,’’ Bode said. “Sometimes, it’s work colleagues who will see the bruises’’ and ask if something is going on at home.

Rasheta, the Mesa police spokesman, said a domestic violence detective told him, “we have not had any spikes in cases. Our numbers have been pretty steady through the year with no abnormalities in the numbers.’’

But police in Phoenix, Chandler and other cities around the state and nation have noted an increase in domestic violence reports.

Between March and August, Chandler police responded to 2,782 domestic disturbance/fight calls in 2020 – a period spanning the onslaught of the pandemic to the latest month statistics are available. In contrast, there were 2,536 such calls during the same period in 2019.

In a report to the Phoenix City Council, Phoenix police noted a spike in domestic violence- related calls during the first six months of 2020, including an 11.5 percent increase in dispatched calls, a 31 percent increase in incident reports, a 27 percent increase in arrests, a 34.8 percent increase in aggravated assaults and a 20.7 percent increase in criminal damage.

Through the end of August, the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence had recorded 73 domestic violence slayings statewide this year, compared to 63 through the same period in 2019. 

Coalition CEO Jenna Panas said domestic violence homicides are 16 percent higher this year. She said the coalition noticed a decline during the early stages of COVID in women seeking shelter, probably because of confusion about whether shelters were open. No shelters closed during the pandemic.

“Most of our shelters, while they may have reduced capacity, we’re not turning people away,’’ Panas said.

 Janice Podzimek, interpersonal violence liaison with Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona, said it is “a grave concern’’ that victims in Mesa may not be reporting incidents of domestic violence because they fear it will trigger an attack.

“It’s every aspect of their life that is controlled and manipulated,’’ she said.

Normally, a survivor might have an opportunity to escape while her abuser is at work or leaving the house for another reason. For Podzimek, who is an abuse survivor, her opening came when her then-boyfriend was arrested by police.

“My abuser was put in jail. That gave me two or three days to gather my things, pack my car and get out of dodge,’’ she said.

When survivors get to a shelter, they should be assessed for potential traumatic brain injury, a problem that can be caused by repeated beatings, but is sometimes overlooked because it is invisible, she said.

It’s an ugly side of life that seems to stand in sharp contrast with Janell Mora, who was described in a series of condolences left on her obituary through Beard’s Funeral Chapel in her native Fayetteville, Arkansas, as a ray of sunshine, a positive person who loved her children. 

Many of them worked with Mora during her more than 15 -year career at Arizona State University, where she most recently served as associate director of Global Career Initiatives until 2018, when she took a job recruiting Master’s in Business Administration students for internships and full-time positions with Cognizant, a professional services company.

“Janell was a treasured member of the W. P. Carey School of Business family at ASU. First as staff, then student, then alumna. We are collectively grieving her loss and a life ended far too soon. Our deepest sympathy for all her family and friends,’’ wrote Dean Amy Hillman. 

Cindy Parnell, ASU’s dean of career and professional development services, also wrote that she has fond memories of Mora.

“Janell brought so much beauty to everyday life. She was a kind soul, strong woman, loving mom, and amazing professional. I loved working with Janell. Her energy was contagious. I’ll remember Janell for so many things, but most of all, her positive spirit and generous heart. Your ASU family will miss you, Janell,’’ Parnell wrote.

Hall and other family members came to Mesa and established a memorial for Mora, near the place where she was shot, after receiving numerous condolences from friends. 

A celebration of Mora’s life is scheduled for Oct. 7 in Arkansas and a GoFundMe account was set up for Mora’s sons that can be found by searching under “trust fund for Brighton and Owen McClelland.”

“She will not be forgotten. I know that for sure. She was too important to people,’’ Hall said. “She did not deserve this as no one deserves this.’’

Hall said she is hopeful that her sister’s death will encourage domestic violence victims to seek help and escape from their abusers during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“Domestic violence is not right. We all know that,’’ Hall said.

A New Leaf’s hotline number is 1-800-SAFEDVS, or 1-800-723-3387. Pledge Purple at Home, a digital education session about domestic violence and fundraiser, is scheduled for Oct. 29. For more information, go to turnanewleaf.org

Funeral services for Janell are set for Wednesday in Arkansas, where she will be buried under her maiden name.

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