AUGUSTA — The family of the Massachusetts woman found dead in the trunk of her boyfriend’s car after his death by suicide in Gardiner is working to turn the tragedy into help for victims of domestic abuse.

“It’s hard to grasp that my sister is no longer here,” Maddilyn Burgess’ sister McKenzie told News Center Maine on Tuesday. “Part of me feels like it’s not even real, that this is just a horrible nightmare.

“She was so full of life and joy and happiness,” she added. “I don’t want anyone else to feel how I feel. It’s gut-wrenching and mortifying.”

Maddilyn Burgess, 28, of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, was found dead in the trunk of a vehicle driven by her boyfriend, Gyrth Rutan, 34, formerly of Bangor. Police pulled him over Aug. 9 on Timberwood Drive in Gardiner after observing him driving erratically on Interstate 295. Rutan then shot himself in the head with a shotgun, resulting in his death.

The Worcester County District Attorney’s Office identified Maddilyn Burgess’ body on Aug. 13 and said the cause of her death was blunt force trauma. They also confirmed that Rutan’s apartment in Sturbridge had “evidence of a crime scene” and the incident was being investigated as a homicide.

WCDA spokesperson Lindsay Corcoran said Tuesday that no information has been released since the Aug. 13 news release.

Burgess’ parents told WBZ-TV in Boston last month that their daughter was a victim of domestic abuse. They said Maddilyn Burgess had obtained a restraining order against Rutan in June, but they were seeing each other again shortly afterward.

“I knew something was wrong as soon as the officers asked me my name and came into the house,” her mother, Cindy Ciani, told reporters. “I fell to the floor and the only thing I could say was, ‘No, no, no, my baby girl.'”

McKenzie Burgess and other family members have started a GoFundMe page to help start the Maddy Rose Foundation, which aims to help victims of domestic abuse in Maine and central Massachusetts.

“It is OK to speak up and say, ‘I’m scared. I need help. I am in fear of my life,” McKenzie Burgess said. “We want to make sure that people know that they have a safe place that they can go.

“She didn’t have a place she felt she could go and be safe, and that’s not right,” she added.

The GoFundMe had raised $6,093 of the $100,000 goal from 66 donations at press time.

McKenzie Burgess’ mother-in-law, Patty Smith, who is helping form the foundation, told News Center Maine that helping victims of abuse could be therapeutic to Maddilyn Burgess’ family.

“Helping her to help other people, I think, will be a lot of really great self-therapy for her,” Smith said.

The family’s goal is to raise enough money to create a nonprofit foundation to fund a safe house in Massachusetts and a closet full of essentials here in Maine. Maddy’s House would be located in central Massachusetts and Maddy’s Closet would be in Maine.

“It’s sad, it’s a tragedy, and I don’t want another family to go through what mine did,” McKenzie Burgess said. “If we can save one person, then my sister’s death won’t be in vain.”

Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, told the Kennebec Journal last month that when victims of abuse return to their abusers, the blame should be put firmly on the abuser for ensuing trouble.

“(What) we know is that the abuse doesn’t stop until the perpetrator of abuse decides to stop,” she said. “Most of the time, when we see domestic violence homicide, it’s when the victim of abuse says they are leaving and not going to reconcile with this person.”

Garland Stark said work needs to be done at the cultural level to deal with abusers’ belief that abusive behavior is acceptable.

“Our cultural focus seems to continually be, ‘Why would the victim of abuse be willing to give their abuser more chances?'” she said. “How can we interrupt the idea that (abusers) can treat people this way in an intimate relationship so nobody believes they have a right to do harm?”

Donations are also being accepted to the Maddilyn Rose Memorial Fund for Battered Women at Daybreak at the Central Massachusetts YWCA.

McKenzie Burgess was not available for comment by press time.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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