A recent string of deadly domestic violence incidents in the Bay Area has underscored a social issue that affects people across income levels, ages and cultural backgrounds.
On Sunday afternoon, Petaluma schoolteacher Kimberly Conover, 43, was shot and killed outside her divorce attorney's office by her estranged husband, Kevin Conover, 41, who then turned the gun on himself.
A day earlier, 32-year-old Trung Quoc Nguyen fatally shot his ex-girlfriend, Emanuel Tran Phoung Nguyen, 39, in the parking lot of a San Jose shopping center then killed himself as the couple's 17-month-old daughter sat in a car nearby.
"This isn't unusual," said Gloria Sandoval, CEO of STAND! For Families Free of Domestic Violence, an agency that provides domestic violence and child abuse services in Contra Costa County.
In fact, Sandoval says that her agency alone speaks to 15,000 new clients every year. In one recent case in Contra Costa County, Brentwood resident Christopher Lo shot his wife Joyce Lo before turning the gun on himself on March 21.
The issue of domestic violence—defined by the National Center for Victims of Crime as "The willful intimidation, assault, battery, sexual assault or other abusive behavior perpetrated by one family member, household member or intimate partner against another"—is an issue that hits close to home for many Gilroy residents.
Gilroy has seen one murder-suicide and one double murder-suicide, both committed by family members, in the last five months.
Gilroy resident Martha Gutierrez, 52, and her daughter Lucero, 11, were killed by an immediate family member in mid-March. Abel Gutierrez is suspected of shooting his mother and sister before turning the gun on himself.
Who can forget the , 43, who was killed by her husband, former San Jose Police Sergeant Christopher Shimek, who then shot and killed himself. The Shimeks had two children, Forest, 19, and Skylar, 13, who had apparently left the family's Rodeo Drive home to grab food when the murder-suicide took place.
In a less serious case, Concord police officer Ameet Patel is facing battery and false imprisonment charges for an alleged domestic violence incident.
Sandoval said domestic violence often occurs when an individual feels powerless in his or her own life and decides to exert control over a partner or child.
Those in positions of power are not immune; in perhaps the most widely publicized Bay Area domestic violence case in years, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pleaded guilty last month to misdemeanor false imprisonment for a New Year's Eve incident in which he allegedly grabbed his wife's arm during an argument. Mikarimi was sentenced to three years' probation on March 19 and has been suspended from office by Mayor Ed Lee. He is challenging the suspension.
Although some cases involve a much lesser degree of violence than others, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence notes that domestic violence tends to escalate over time.
A US Department of Justice survey found that nearly one in four women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood, while another found that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced a rape or attempted rape, according to the partnership.
Sandoval warns people to stay alert for controlling behavior of all kinds, which can be a precursor to violence. Such behavior can include acting extremely jealous, monitoring where a partner goes and what the person does, controlling finances, threatening a partner physically, or using force or intimidation in sexual situations, according to the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.
Sandoval noted that many perpetrators of domestic violence experienced violence in the homes where they grew up.
"Therefore, we believe that domestic violence is a learned behavior... and that it be unlearned," she said.
Sandoval encourages anyone concerned about or experiencing domestic violence to call a domestic violence hotline, such as the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 779-SAFE.
The STAND! 24-hour hotline, which primarily serves Contra Costa County residents, can be reached at (888) 215-5555. Those seeking services or counseling can also contact the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence during normal business hours at (800) 524-4765.
—Bay City News and Gilroy Patch
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