Break the Cycle: Virginia woman writes a song urging domestic abuse survivors to speak out

Virginia News

Virginia Beach, Va. (WAVY) — Music has the power to uplift and promote social change.

For Shannon McAfee, music was a form of therapy to grieve the loss of her little brother.

Most people knew him as John Kilgore, but childhood friends called him “Jolly.”

“He was just the happiest most laidback person. Always laughing, always smiling, always making other people laugh and smile. He brought joy. He was a very kind and giving person,” said McAfee. “He was always talking about family, and he was part of my daughter’s life from the time they were born. He was very invested in his family.”

But behind his beautiful smile was so much pain. It led McAfee to write a poem called “If I would have known.”

If I’d known your pain
If I’d known your fear
I’d have pulled you closer
Wiped away your tears

If I’d known your worries
I’d have pulled you near
Then you might still be here

In January 2019, Kilgore was tragically killed by his ex-partner while trying to move out of their Virginia Beach home. 

“It’s one of those stories that you never imagine happens to you,” explained McAfee. “You know in your heart someone is gone but when you actually hear the words… I can’t describe it.”

Three years later, in August 2021, his ex, Roel Delua pleaded guilty to several charges including second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison as part of a plea agreement.

“There is no amount of time that will ever be sufficient. No punishment that will ever bring my brother back,” McAfee said.

Kilgore is survived by the memories he shared with his family and friends. McAfee said Kilgore’s love of music inspired her to turn her “If I would have known” poem into a song.

“I couldn’t get out of my head that maybe this would have made a difference,” she said.

She then reached out to the Virginia Beach recording arts studio to see how to she could get the song out to people. The studio put her in touch with a vocalist, a pianist and producers.

“All I had were the words and the people that I met here are the ones who created this song,” said McAfee.

When the song was complete, she created a music sharing website called “Reform Through Music.

“Music has the ability to change people’s lives in a positive way. That’s where I came up with the idea of ‘reform through music,'” she said.

The idea is to get the right song to the right person before it’s too late.

“The message I would want to tell people is no matter how much you love a person, some people are incapable of giving you that type of love back. You can’t have love without respect. When there is no respect for your life, it’s just you’re beating against a brick wall. There is nothing that you are able to do at that point. Know that you deserve something better, that whoever you are with should be helping you live the type of life you want and deserve,” she said.

The signs of abuse were not entirely clear as her brother was very private. Yet McAfee remembers early on in his relationship, he had a black eye.

“This was a gay relationship, so that made it a little bit more complicated in our mind because you think two men roughhousing, you could see how that could happen,” she explained. 

“At that point in time, we didn’t really question it, although we still thought it was a little odd. We didn’t see any behavior changes at that point in time. But then of course looking back on it, it’s obvious that was the first sign that something was going on,” she said.

Rebecca Rose, an LGBT Life Center crisis counselor, said it’s often hard for LGBT couples to speak out. Even calling law enforcement can be a challenge.

“When a police officer responds to a domestic violence incident, they may have difficulty identifying the victim if it’s a same sex couple. We see that a lot,” she said.

Studies show only about 25% of gay men call the police for assistance after experiencing near-lethal violence.

LGBT Life Center has an intimate partner violence program this is one of few agencies in the country.

“A lot of the centers like this don’t have [a] domestic violence program. It is not a service that is widely known at all,” she said.

LGBTQ Life Center also offers safety planning, crisis intervention, assistance with emergency housing and legal services.

Call 757-640-0929 or email

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