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When Frank Dodd heard that Kim Baucom Conover had been shot and killed by her husband, who then killed himself, the news was both shocking and terribly familiar.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks," said the Luma Restaurant sous chef. "I couldn't even move." But he knew he had to do something.

Part of Dodd's horror stemmed from memories of his own childhood, and the rest from the role that Conover had played in his life.

In 1981, two weeks before Dodd entered eighth grade in Petaluma, his father killed his mother and then committed suicide. His parents had been divorced twice at the time; his father lived in Arizona and his mother was engaged to another man.

"Her wedding was getting close, and she called my dad up to have what she called &‘the perfect last weekend as a family'. We rode bikes and spent time together, and then at the end he killed her and then himself," said Dodd. "The whole thing was so weird and awful. One minute we were hanging out and the next, it was all over."

In an ironic and heartbreaking twist, Dodd said that one person in particular helped him get through those first few months after it happened — his girlfriend, Kim Baucom.

"When we were young, Kim had such an attentive ear and was always so happy - she was a strength to be around during such a difficult time," Dodd said. "To have the exact same thing happen to her was just so hard to believe."

When Dodd learned of Conover's murder, he immediately knew he wanted to help. He met with Trisha Almond, CEO of Guided to Safety — a local organization to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault - and said he wanted to begin an educational program for teens in relationships and a charity for the Conover children, to be funded by a portion of the proceeds from his new Cold Shoulder Ice Cream business.

Dodd's business is starting out small but enthusiastically - so far, he's raised about $1,000 by pedaling an ice cream cart while not working at Luma.

Almond said she was thrilled with the idea and sees the opportunity as a great starting point.

"The educational program we are focusing on is for teens because we want to teach them what a healthy relationship is, before they hit adulthood," she said.

Almond added that 54 percent of parents are unaware of the potential for relationship violence for their kids, especially when the parents are in a great relationship themselves: "They think they're setting a great example — and they are — but that doesn't mean anything."

While kids are educated frequently on sexually transmitted diseases, Almond pointed out that teens are more prone to be a victim of teen relationship violence than they are to contract STDs.

Dodd, whose parents never talked with him about healthy relationships, feels that education can never be taught too early. He said that his experiences as a child have made him wary of parenthood.

"My dad was an alcoholic so I have always avoided alcohol. I've never been violent because of what I saw," said Dodd. "But the childhood I had made me petrified to have kids of my own. I would never want to make any of the mistakes that my parents made."

And when he refers to mistakes, Dodd says he is talking about both his mother and his father.

"My father was like a professional teenager, always wanting to have a good time," he said. "And my mother, she was the foundation, but she made mistakes and she kept going back (to the relationship)."

Dodd's frustration over his mother's multiple returns to her abuser is one that resonates strongly in a community that just experienced the loss of Kim Conover, whose troubled relationship appeared to follow a similar, repeat-abuse pattern.

Lisa Simon, a friend of both Kim and Kevin Conover and a former victim of domestic violence herself, said that abusers often do not start with physical violence.

Abusers instead create cycles of abuse, starting out as loving companions, then shifting to first psychological and emotional abuse, and finally reaching a crescendo with physical assaults, said Simon, a Marin resident who met the Conovers last October and became fast friends with Kim.

"A lot of abusers make sure that their victims are broken down first, before ever laying a hand on them," she said. "That way, the victim has already become mentally dependent on their abusers, making it way more difficult to leave once the abuse escalates to physical stuff."

Simon said that she was finally able to leave her unhealthy relationship, but that it took six attempts, three months of planning, and every ounce of strength she had.

"Women need to know there is a life outside of the abuse. They can do it. It's hard — it will be the hardest thing they've ever done. But they need to just get out and run," she said. "They need to remember that they can acquire material things again, but that they only have one life."

Madeline O'Connell, president of the Sonoma County YWCA, which runs a safe house for women in Santa Rosa, agrees with Simon, and said that a major key to safeguarding women against domestic violence is having people call her organization and others like it.

But Detective Tamara Shoemaker of the Petaluma Police Department said that while county resources are great, the local options for women have been reduced due to a drop in funding; the department's domestic violence counselor position was cut when a grant was lost at the beginning of 2012.

Shoemaker said that eliminating a position that helps guide these traumatized women through an overwhelming legal system most likely reduces the number of women who report being abused.

She added that while the number of domestic violence crimes reported in Petaluma decreased in 2011 — down from 180 crimes reported in 2010 to 144 cases in 2011 — she said that it's merely being reported less.

Dodd and Almond say they hope their educational program becomes another resource in the area and opens a dialogue on a subject that often gets ignored.

For more information visit www.guidedtosafety.org or www.ywca.org/so nomacounty or call 546-1234.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)