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Shock, grief and the desire to help


Her story illustrates the way in which many in this small, close-knit city have reacted to the news: Nearly everyone feels impacted by the tragedy, and nearly everyone wants to help.

Kim Conover, 43, and Kevin Conover, 41, both graduated from Petaluma High School and made their lives in Petaluma, making diverse friends and acquaintances along the way. Kevin Conover was a former PG&E employee who had left on disability; Kim Conover taught second grade at Meadow School for more than 12 years.

Teachers and students have spent much of this week coming to terms with the loss of someone that Meadow School's Principal Melissa Becker described as "an all-star teacher, an example of everything a teacher should be."

"We all were in complete shock," said Robert Cmelak, superintendent for the Waugh School District, which includes Meadow School. "It's so tragic."

After learning about Kim Conover's death on Sunday from Police Lt. Dave Sears, Cmelak and Becker personally called the parents of each of the 24 students in Conover's class, as well as all the employees in the school district.

"We wanted to address it in a loving and caring way," Cmelak said.

On Monday, Becker and a grievance team met with the children in Conover's class.

A police chaplain, police dogs to pet, school board members, school counselors, members from hospice, and parents all showed up: "It was the biggest outpouring of love and support in a really tragic circumstance that I could imagine," Becker said.

Children expressed their sadness by drawing pictures for Kim Conover and, with the addition of flowers, they formed a colorful shrine outside Becker's office.

First-grade teachers are taking turns teaching Conover's class, so that the students can learn from someone they're familiar with, Becker said. Second-grade teachers have chipped in too, providing curriculum and lesson plans.

"We're still figuring out what we're going to do for the last part of the year," Becker said.

It's clear from talking with friends and colleagues that the void Kim Conover left extends beyond the classroom.

"We lost someone special, and it's going to affect the community for generations to come," said Patrick Veeninga, an old friend of Kim Conover's from Petaluma High School who had reconnected with her recently. Coincidentally, Veeninga was also involved with V-Day Petaluma and Guided to Safety.

Kim Conover, he said, was a "nurturer, teacher, mother and friend," who managed to help and care for others and make each person she met feel special, even as she was going through a difficult divorce.

Her impact on the community was visible at the site of the shooting on Keller Street, where a shrine of flowers and other items grew throughout the week.

On Tuesday, Marcus Moore set some flowers there. He's a local marriage counselor who works to end patterns of violence in families. He said he didn't know Kim or Kevin Conover directly, but he knew families of kids who had gone to her school.

"So this was just really striking to me, how much it has impacted a small community like Petaluma," he said.

"I just wanted to do something to show my feelings to the family."

(Contact the writers at argus@arguscourier.com)