Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Petaluma, CA: Family member: Petaluma shooting victim feared estranged husband

Petaluma second-grade teacher Kim Baucom Conover knew her estranged husband, Kevin, owned a gun but may have been the only member of her family who failed to anticipate what he might do with it, a close family member said Monday.
Their troubled marriage of less than two years included episodes of physical violence, an Easter Day domestic abuse report and recent episodes of stalking in the wake of the couple's separation about two months ago, the family member said, on condition her name and relationship not be revealed.
Kim Conover, 43, was “absolutely” afraid of her husband and had tried to leave him several times before, the family member said.
On Sunday, she visited her divorce attorney to get a restraining order against her husband, police said.
But she apparently did not foresee the level of violence that exploded Sunday afternoon.
Kevin Conover, 41, was waiting for her outside her lawyer's office in downtown Petaluma. Police said he accosted her on the street, then shot her and killed himself.
“I think everybody but her thought he was capable of this,” the family member said.
Her attorney, Jeff Zimmerman, was among several witnesses to the 2 p.m. shooting, police said. On Monday, Zimmerman said he was unable to say anything because of attorney-client privilege.
“My hands are tied,” Zimmerman said.
Kim Conover, a graduate of Petaluma High School like her husband, was a well-loved teacher for more than 12 years at Meadow Elementary School in the Waugh School District.
The flag was flying at half-staff over the Petaluma school, where staff and students were grieving Monday with chaplains and counselors on hand to help, Superintendent Robert Cmelak said.
Students were invited to spend time “loving up” two service dogs brought in to provide comfort. Numerous kids created colorful pictures and letters that were taped to a window on the principal's office above a row of vases filled with flowers.
The Conovers had 21-month-old twins, a boy and a girl, and Kim Conover had two older daughters from a previous marriage, a 15-year-old and 12-year-old who attend Petaluma schools, police and school officials said.
Kevin Conover's mother, Jean Conover, declined comment Monday, but his sister, Bonnie, issued a written statement a short time later saying the family “was devastated by Sunday's events.”
“Our hearts go out to the Baucom and Sullivan families for their senseless loss; especially to Kim's daughters,” the statement read. “We appreciate and are eternally grateful for the love and support being shown in the community for all of us impacted by this tragedy.”
Until their separation, Kim Conover lived in the same home Kevin Conover had shared with his late wife, who reportedly died of cancer, in a neat neighborhood off Rainier Circle in northeast Petaluma. She most recently was staying with her parents in Petaluma.
A friend said Kevin Conover retired on disability from PG&E about five years ago.
Neighbors on Searles Way said the couple was friendly but didn't interact much with others on the street.
“There's always been something off over there,” next-door neighbor Margaret Corderman said, citing blinds that were closed “24-7.”
Corderman said she heard the couple argue a few times, and was surprised when she suddenly realized two young children lived there.
Another neighbor also remembered seeing police at the house, but said the Conovers “were good neighbors, and they were very peaceable to everyone, though I don't know what went on privately.”
Police Lt. Tim Lyons said police were still compiling information about the couple's history, but had records of two domestic violence complaints made by Kim Conover, one on April 9 at the Searles Way house and the other on June 2, 2011. No arrests were made on either occasion.
But Lyons said investigators had several witnesses and no real doubt that Kevin Conover was responsible for Sunday's shooting, though they were eager to talk with any additional witnesses who may have seen him in the time before the gunfire.
A ripe, red apple had been placed at the base of an impromptu memorial to Kim Conover containing numerous bouquets of flowers and a button saying “Until Violence Stops” that had been left Monday in front of the Keller Street building where the shooting occurred.
Lyons said Kevin Conover reportedly was waiting outside the lawyer's office for his wife. There was a brief exchange, and Kim Conover turned and walked away from him, southbound. Kevin Conover followed, and then fired, Lyons said.
It was unclear how many rounds he shot or how many times she was struck before he turned the gun on himself, Lyons said.
Both were taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where Kevin Conover was pronounced dead around 5 p.m. and Kim Conover around 9 p.m., Lyons said.
Autopsies were being conducted on the two on Monday, but there were no preliminary results available, Lyons said.
A “gifted teacher” who taught hundreds of children in the primary grades at Meadow School, Kim Conover was “a teacher of teachers” who traveled around the country training others in language arts instruction, including reading comprehension, fluency and vocabulary, Cmelak said.
He said police informed him of the shooting in time for him and Meadow principal Melissa Becker to call every staff member in the district and then each student family from Conover's class to impart the news.
It was agreed students would only be told that Conover had passed away, without details, Cmelak said. Any specific questions about domestic violence or her husband's role would be answered with, “We certainly don't know all the facts,” he said.
But it was a challenge given the number of children who arrived at school already knowing certain details about the shooting, and it was a rough day all around, Cmelak said.
Many of the staff shared tears over Conover's death, as well, and the school day closed with many exchanging hugs out front of the school.
Conover “had a smile that lit up the room,” Cmelak said, “and that's how we're going to remember her.”
Suns, butterflies, birds and many hearts populated the students' drawings posted at the school office.
“Dear Conover Family,” one note read, “I'm really sorry what happened to your mom. I really loved her, too.”

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