Special Report part 1: The violence at home

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - South Carolina is at the top of the list for women who are killed by men. The numbers are stunning. One woman dies almost every week as a result of domestic violence.

Domestic violence numbers have dropped nationally over the last 20 years.

But not in South Carolina.

The Palmetto State consistently ranks among the worst. ABC News 4 partnered with the Post and Courier and the Center for Investigative Reporting to review the data and details of domestic violence and see how it affects families in the Lowcountry.

This is Delores Dawson's story.

A visit to Wescott Park provides some fun for Dawson and three of her grandchildren. Even though she's retired from the workforce, she has a new job.

"It's just like I am starting over being a mom again," she said.

That role began last year after the most tragic circumstances involving her daughter, 34-year-old Zakiya Lawson.

"She worked the night shift at Wal-Mart. She just got home, coming to go to her children and this man is in her house waiting to kill her. He never did live there or nothing," Dawson said.

North Charleston police say that man - Peter Centil Williams - shot and killed his former girlfriend inside the mobile home and then took his own life.

"He was stalking her all this time and we didn't know. But when she died, we found the restraining order on her refrigerator," Dawson said.

Lawson left behind seven kids and a seemingly insurmountable grief for family and friends.

Her murder adds to South Carolina's staggering statistic. It's the No. 1 state in the nation for women killed by men.

"The metro areas like Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, those tend to have the highest death tallies in sheer numbers," said veteran Post and Courier journalist Glenn Smith.

Smith and several of his colleagues at the newspaper began and eight-month investigation into criminal domestic violence, uncovering disturbing facts about the state's deadly rating and the weak laws in it.

"There's not a lot of punishment that goes on, at least on the first or second offenses," Smith said. "Some of it has to do with the culture. It's a very male-dominated state in the power structure."

For Dawson that's no consolation as she and family members heal a little each day.

My life was ripped apart because that child was gone, but God is good. He's going to bring me through this," she said.

Lawson's story is one of dozens across the state where families have been shattered by ruthless relationship killings.

The Post and Courier has documented many of the cases in a special section.