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After a tragedy, a mother wants to soften the rooms where police interview victims

Project Beloved created one of its soft interview rooms at Missouri's Kansas City Police Department for investigators to interview victims of sexual assault.
Kansas City Police Department
Project Beloved created one of its soft interview rooms at Missouri's Kansas City Police Department for investigators to interview victims of sexual assault.

Tracy Matheson's mission for the past several years grew out of a parent’s worst nightmare.

Molly Jane, Matheson’s 22-year-old daughter, was raped and murdered in her Fort Worth, Texas-area apartment on April 10, 2017. Her killer, Reginald Kimbro, went on to murder a second woman, Megan Getrum, 36, just days later.

Kimbro was sentenced to multiple life sentences for those murders and additional sexual assaults in 2022.

Since her daughter’s death, Matheson has channeled her pain into her nonprofit, Project Beloved: The Molly Jane Mission, an organization dedicated to advocating for sexual assault victims. The group's name was inspired by Molly Jane Matheson’s wrist tattoo that said “Beloved.”

Tracy Matheson said justice was eventually done in her daughter’s case, but she was left feeling like there was more to do. “I have to do something. I can’t stay quiet,” she said.

 Tracy Matheson and her daughter Molly Jane Matheson (right) in a November 2016 photo. Matheson founded Project Beloved: The Molly Jane Mission in her daughter's memory.
Project Beloved: The Molly Jane Mission Facebook /
Tracy Matheson and her daughter Molly Jane Matheson (right) in a November 2016 photo. Matheson founded Project Beloved: The Molly Jane Mission in her daughter's memory.

She immersed herself in books and studies to learn about sexual assault, how it's addressed in the criminal justice system and the emotional and physical impact of trauma tied to an assault.

Using this knowledge, Project Beloved developed one of its biggest initiatives: renovating police interview rooms from their harshly lit, cold atmosphere to become as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

It's a way for investigators to become trauma-informed — acting in a way that anticipates how trauma survivors might respond differently after an assault, for example, and to prevent acting in a way that could re-harm them.

Project Beloved has now worked with more than 100 law enforcement agencies in big cities and small rural towns across the nation to create soft interview rooms. The rooms are to be used to interview victims of sexual assault or other forms of trauma and are renovated to create a comfortable, safe environment as victims retell their harrowing experiences to investigators.

The renovation costs, which are around $2,500 to $3,000, are covered by Project Beloved thanks to donations to the organization and the work can take just a couple of hours to complete.

Since the organization started this initiative momentum continues to grow, with a waiting list now stretching into 2025, Matheson says.

"This needs to happen in Kansas City"

Last month, with the help of Project Beloved, Missouri’s Kansas City Police Department remodeled a formerly stiff and uninviting room (used for both victims and suspects) into a soft interview room to solely serve victims of sexual assault. Two years ago, another police department in the Kansas City suburb of Belton used a federal grant to create a similar soft room.

The Kansas City Police Department's Sgt. Tiffany Davis came across Matheson’s story and her efforts with Project Beloved on a Dateline episode. She and another officer decided: “This needs to happen in Kansas City.”

The room now has blankets, lamps, a nice rug and three chairs — a conscious decision by investigators.

“He or she can choose whatever chair they want. Whatever one's gonna make them comfortable,” Davis said. “And that's kind of the beginning of allowing them to have their power back.”

On the walls of each room renovated by the project are framed pictures of nature scenes taken by Getrum, who was an amateur photographer, Matheson said.

“We put three of her photographs up in each of our rooms,” she said. “It's a way to weave Megan’s story with ours and make sure that people know these rooms come at a very high cost.”

The rooms go beyond providing comfortable chairs and soft lighting. They can make a big difference in victims being able to provide potentially crucial information to police during an investigation, said Matheson and Cortney Fisher, a lecturer at the University of Maryland, College Park focusing on trauma and victimology.

“It's very difficult for a survivor of trauma to recount coherently and consistently a chronological account of what happened. What they smelled, what they heard, what they tasted, what they felt. And it's not super accessible, particularly as they are under stress,” Fisher said.

These rooms ideally give victims a space that reduces stress so they can better recount the events and details to investigators in a way that will help police and lead to a prosecution, she said.

 The Kansas City Police Department used to interview victims as well as suspects in the same room.
Kansas City Police Department /
The Kansas City Police Department used to interview victims as well as suspects in the same room.

How does trauma impact victims?

Trauma “doesn't look the same from one person to the next,” Matheson said. ”For so long, we have misunderstood and made the wrong conclusion about victims of sexual assault. And we've said, ‘Oh, they're lying. It didn't happen, because they're not acting in a way that we think that they should.’ When in fact, we don't understand trauma.”

This is something she feels very deeply. Before Kimbro was caught, he had been reported by multiple women for assault and yet remained free, Matheson said.

"He had been investigated multiple times for raping and strangling women in Texas. But the system failed," she said.

Tracy Matheson says the work of Project Beloved to renovate law enforcement interview rooms has a waiting list stretching into 2025.
Project Beloved: The Molly Jane Mission's Facebook /
Tracy Matheson says the work of Project Beloved to renovate law enforcement interview rooms has a waiting list stretching into 2025.

New research in the past 10 years has shown how trauma affects victims' brains, Fisher said. That impact can include even how a victim remembers details up to weeks after the traumatic event.

Any effort by police, like these soft interview rooms, “that takes the victim's trauma into account is a great step,” Fisher said.

She says that while the rooms address the physical space, training police not to re-traumatize victims during the interviews is even more important.

Davis, the police sergeant, said Kansas City’s effort to be more thoughtful toward victims experiencing trauma goes beyond these rooms.

“Being trauma-informed, especially when it comes to survivors of sexual assault is so important,” she said. “We have to, as a law enforcement entity, realize that it's a different kind of victim.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Corrected: July 11, 2024 at 4:40 PM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly said that the Kansas City Police Department was Missouri's first agency to create a soft interview room. It was the first in the state to do so with Project Beloved's help. The police department in Belton, Mo., set up such a room in 2022 using a federal grant.
Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.