Heaps of daffodils, roses and tulips crowded the sidewalk of a Petaluma elementary school where a second-grade teacher should have returned to class last Monday.
Kim Conover knew she needed to protect herself from her estranged husband. The 43-year-old mother of four called 911 on three occasions, twice asked for restraining orders and twice began divorce proceedings. Then, as many victims of domestic violence do, she changed her mind.
Her actions showed a yearning to work things out within her family. She would not get that chance.
Kevin Conover, 41, walked up to his wife, the mother of their 21-month-old twins, and shot her last Sunday on a Petaluma street in broad daylight. He then turned the revolver on himself.
The shocking explosion of violence is all too familiar in Sonoma County.
Since 2005, one out of five killings in Sonoma County was committed by husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends and wives against their partners.
The people involved were couples with decades of marriage between them, young lovers and parents of young children.
They were immigrants and people born and raised in Sonoma County. They were teachers, house cleaners, landscapers, psychiatrists and technicians.
The killings left at least 13 young children without one or both of their parents.
The deaths are the most extreme outcome of domestic violence that quietly occurs every day in Sonoma County. It is a crime that cuts across social, ethnic and economic lines, presenting agonizing decisions for the people involved in the turmoil and the advocates, police, judges and prosecutors trying to stop the pervasive problem.
About twice every day, Sonoma County judges issue temporary restraining orders related to domestic violence.
And about eight people each day call the domestic violence crisis hotline operated by the YWCA, which runs the county's only shelter for battered women. Last year, YWCA staff helped 71 women and 140 children flee abusive partners or parents.
About 10 percent of 911 calls to the Santa Rosa Police Department were for domestic disturbances.
"It is every day, it is a couple times an hour sometimes," said Santa Rosa Police Sgt. John Snetsinger, who runs the department's domestic violence unit.
Onus on victims
The onus is often on victims to take a stand against their abusers, even as they grapple with issues surrounding children, money and property.
"The victim has to decide they're ready," said Jennifer Lake, director of operations for the YWCA.
The Conover case has directed attention to the way police and the courts respond to domestic disputes. Judges on two occasions denied Conover's request for restraining orders against her husband.
Neither District Attorney Jill Ravitch nor Rene Chouteau, presiding judge of the Sonoma County Superior Court, had fully reviewed the police and court reports by Friday to evaluate how Conover's last request for a restraining order was handled.
"If there has been a failure on the part of public safety, obviously there needs to be a better job done," Ravitch said. "I will look at it to see what we can do going forward and if there is anything we could have done better."
After a preliminary review, Chouteau said it appears there were no mistakes made. A Petaluma police officer relayed information from Conover to the on-duty judge, Virginia Marcoida, who took the rare step of denying the order. To approve a request, a judge must determine there is a serious and current threat of violence.