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Community wonders what could have been done

Published: Friday, April 20, 2012 at 5:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 20, 2012 at 5:17 p.m.

The home that Kevin and Kim Conover once lived in together on Searles Way appears as idyllic as any other in the pleasant Petaluma neighborhood, giving no indication of the troubled marriage and incidents of domestic violence that led up to Sunday's shooting.

Now, some neighbors, friends and other community members are wondering if they should have seen more signs — if anything could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

Kim Conover's death has brought the issue of domestic violence, which is an ongoing but usually unnoticed problem, once again to the forefront of the community. Conover's was the second death related to domestic violence in two years, following that of Buapha Mullennix.

Buapha Mullennix had reportedly told her friends of abuse before she was killed in early 2010 by her husband, Ken Mullennix, who is now standing trial for her death.

On Tuesday, the Conovers' neighbor, Kathleen Stafford, spoke about what happened through tears. She said she knew something was wrong after she saw police cars at the house earlier in April, but that she had hesitated to help because she and her husband didn't know the couple very well.

“We weren't that close, so we just thought she was getting the help she needed,” she said. “Now I wish I had done something or offered support. Who knows if she would have taken it … but I still think we all have a responsibility to take care of one another.”

Another neighbor, David Saballos, described Kevin Conover as a “tough character” who had never really tried to get along with the neighbors, but said, “I never thought he'd be capable of something like this.”

But an online comment posted by one of Kim Conover's teenage daughters on the Press Democrat's website indicates that family members may have felt otherwise: “He was a soulless individual whom I had to live with for two years,” she wrote.

Police are still trying to determine all the factors that led up to Sunday's shooting, a task that involves three detectives talking to witnesses and family members, looking at any clues that could have been left in Kim and Kevin Conover's vehicles, and putting together a history of past disturbances.

By Wednesday, they had identified five calls, all for either domestic or family disturbances or domestic violence allegations, which had been made in the last year from the Conovers' home on Searles Way.

Kim Conover made three of the calls to the police seeking help, Kevin Conover made one, and Kim's teenage daughter made one.

Two of the calls led to a request for an emergency protective order, or a temporary, five-day restraining order that is meant to give the victim time to get more permanent protection. The first was made by police on Kim Conover's behalf and the secondmade at Kim Conover's request after she reported that her husband had grabbed her earlier that day.

A judge denied that second request, made on April 9 — less than one week before she was shot.

Lyons did not release the name of the judge, but explained that a judge must make his decision based on the evidence provided by the police officer who is making the request. The evidence in the case included no witnesses, only Kim Conover's account of what had happened and Kevin Conover's denial that there had been any abuse. There were also no visible injuries.

Police obtained the first protective order in June of 2011, after responding to a call where Kim Conover claimed that her husband had grabbed her and that there had been previous instances of violence. Kim Conover asked that her husband be arrested, though she said she didn't think she needed a protective order. Police obtained one anyway, but were unable to serve it because they could not contact Kevin Conover in time.

Then Kim Conover retracted her request and the allegations of abuse, something that experts say is not uncommon in cases of domestic violence.

Kim Conover also requested a restraining order from a Sonoma County judge on March 6, according to court records. The judge inititially denied the request but set a hearing where more information could be presented on March 27. But on that day, Conover's lawyer appeared on her behalf and asked that the request be dismissed.

On Sunday, Kim Conover went to Keller Street to meet with her divorce attorney, reportedly to try again to get a restraining order against her husband.

Kevin Conover was there waiting for her, according to information that police have gathered from witnesses. He spoke to her, she turned and started walking away, and he shot her with a revolver before shooting himself.

Patrick Veeninga, a friend of both Kim and Kevin Conover, said he felt badlyfor both families, and that he hoped that awareness and resources for people facing similar situations could grow from the tragedy.

“We've lost two people from the community, there are kids without parents, there are parents without their children,” he said. “There needs to be a proactive community conversation of how can we prevent this.”

Veeninga is also active in Guided to Safety, a group that seeks to end domestic violence of all kinds.

He said he got involved because he has seen, first-hand, what people go through in situations of domestic violence.

“It was never a question of why do it, but why isn't everyone else doing it?” he said.

Lilyan Frank, another member of Guided to Safety who has worked on issues of domestic violence since 1981, said that it had greatly saddened her to see something she had worked to prevent for so long happen in her own town.

She acknowledged there isn't always a clear-cut way to deal with such situations, but recommended that victims call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 or check into a shelter, the nearest being in Santa Rosa. The Petaluma Police Department also has a domestic violence and sexual abuse advocate.

“I think women have to realize that if they're with someone abusive, this can happen, and they just have to take every single threat seriously,” Frank said.

(Contact the writers at argus@arguscourier.com)

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