When Holly Dee learned that her daughter was in an abusive relationship years ago, she cajoled and criticized, pleading with the 24-year-old to leave her husband.

“I would be so angry, (asking) ‘How can you do this to your kids?’ ” Dee, of Kennebunk, said during a recent interview. Her insistence created a gulf between them. For the next five years, Dee feared for the safety of her daughter, Nicole Oliver, but felt powerless to help.

“No matter what family members say, that person has to make up their own mind” to leave the relationship, Dee said.

Questions about how family members and others can help someone in an abusive relationship were rekindled March 16 after the shooting death of Kelly Winslow in Limington.

Advocates for abuse victims say the Winslow case also serves as a reminder of how frightened abuse victims can be, scared to stay but even more afraid of leaving, and why it can take a long time and a lot of support to coax someone to safety.

“That fear of omnipotence is so real. That’s why battered women who kill their abusers unload the gun, because they think he’s going to get back up,” said Cindi Peoples, executive director of Caring Unlimited, the domestic violence support organization that serves York County.

Police charged Winslow’s husband, Patrick Dapolito, with murder, saying he shot his wife in the head before hiding her body in a freezer. The next day he hid the body on family property in a remote town in western Maine, police said.

Winslow’s body was found with a handcuff dangling from her wrist. Her husband told police he shackled her to him for her own sense of security. Others in the household told police it was to keep her from sneaking out at night.

According to court papers, Dapolito told police he was lying with his wife on the floor of their bathroom, holding a 9 mm handgun that he slept with every night, when it accidentally went off.

Dapolito had never been charged with abuse against Winslow in the six years that they knew each other. They were recently married in Mexico.

IDEA OF ABUSER AS ‘ALL-POWERFUL’

In 1998, Dapolito was charged with domestic assault and criminal threatening in a previous relationship. He was convicted only of disorderly conduct, the lowest-level misdemeanor.

Prosecutors say the evidence in Winslow’s death points to domestic violence homicide. It’s the most common type of murder in the state, accounting for roughly half of Maine’s homicides in any given year and 70 percent of the homicides in which women are killed.

Winslow’s teenage daughter told police after the killing that her mother was abused regularly. She said Dapolito twice fired a gun to frighten her mother while the girl was in the house. He hit her mother with a pool cue and burned her on the hand with a cigarette, the girl told investigators.

Winslow’s brother, Jerry Winslow Jr., told police that this winter he went to his sister’s house on Mike’s Way in Limington to help her leave Dapolito.

Kelly Winslow told him to keep his voice down, so Dapolito did not hear about her intention to leave. She told her brother to keep his cell phone close but insisted she would be all right.

Some days later, she called him and asked to be picked up at a store in Standish. Her brother and father were on their way when Winslow called back, saying she didn’t know why she called them, she was fine and not to come get her, the brother told police.

“In cases of extreme abuse like this one, the victim comes to believe that the abuser is ‘all-powerful’ that the abuser has the power to (and will) make good on threats to kill her and possibly those she cares about unless she complies with his ‘rules,’” Peoples said.

There are common similarities in most domestic violence homicides, advocates say.

There are warning signs. Emotional and mental abuse often precede physical abuse.

There are people who want to help but don’t know how, rightly afraid that interference could make things worse.

EFFORTS TO LEAVE STIR BACKLASH

Friends and relatives should contact the domestic violence agency in their area, which can pull together the resources it takes for someone to leave safely and successfully, say advocates and family members.

In recent cases, advocates have worked with health care providers, social workers and others to help persuade victims to leave, and have developed a plan designed to keep the people safe and give them the confidence they need to break free, Peoples said.

They worked with prosecutors and police to provide protection and to ensure that the abuser, once arrested, couldn’t make bail until the victim had a chance to leave.

Nothing can be allowed to go wrong, because the most dangerous time for victims is when they are trying to leave. That’s when the abuser feels a loss of control.

The coordinated response is relatively new and still evolving as relationships among police, advocates and other social service agencies improve, Peoples said.

In the past, the agency or police would wait for the victim to call, then help when they did. Often, the call never came.

It can take many months of emotional support before a woman is ready to leave, Peoples said. Sometimes the hardest part has been simply finding an opportunity to talk to a victim, breaking through the isolation imposed by an abusive partner.

“You can’t do it without her saying ‘yes.’ You can’t go and grab somebody and a bunch of kids,” Peoples said. “She needs time to come to a belief that ‘Maybe these people can keep me safe.’ If people push, the victim isn’t going to trust anything.”

VICTIM’S MOM URGES EDUCATION

Planning doesn’t stop with the escape, Peoples said. Arrangements also have to be made so the victim and any children can afford food and rent after they leave.

Dee, the Kennebunk woman, said that when she was agonizing over how to help her daughter, she knew little about what Caring Unlimited and other domestic violence support agencies did, beyond running an emergency shelter for people with nowhere else to go.

Dee knows better now, three years after her daughter’s husband shot Nicole Oliver three times in the head, then killed himself. Dee says she is ready to get more involved in Caring Unlimited’s work, offering what insights she can from her experience.

She also wants to see more education in the public arena and anti-bullying programs in schools.

She especially wants young people to be taught that no one has the right to degrade them, control them or manipulate them through jealousy.

In the case of Dee’s daughter, she left her husband six times over the years. But Oliver eventually would say the couple were going to try to work it out, and her mother’s heart would sink.

April 2007, Oliver’s husband had been arrested on a domestic assault charge. Oliver had filed for divorce and was living with her mother.

Two months later, the husband offered to give his estranged wife money to help pay for an apartment for her. Struggling financially as a waitress while attending nursing school and raising two children, Oliver went to meet him when she got out of work.

Police discovered the bodies of Oliver and her husband the next day in their Wells home.

“The fake check for $100,000 was still in her hand, and she was lying face-down on the floor,” Dee said.