Intimate-partner violence in Utah above national average, experts say

Posted at 9:35 PM, Jun 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-22 23:35:35-04

ROY, Utah -- An apparent murder-suicide has taken a northern Utah community by surprise and devastated a family.

Russell Smith, his wife Shawna and their two children Tylee, 6, and Blake, 2, were found shot to death on Sunday, Roy officials said Monday.

Roy police say Russell Smith appeared to have a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The deaths are being investigated as a murder-suicide.

“They didn't deserve this, they didn't deserve this,” said Shawna Smith’s mother, Sheila Pruitt. “My daughter is an angel she loves her babies.”

While family and friends are shocked, statistics from the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition show murder-suicides are more common than people realize.

Adult homicides make up 42 percent of domestic violence cases in Utah since 2000, experts say. The national average is 30 percent.

Each month at least one woman is murdered by her intimate partner in Utah.

This is the second case of an apparent murder-suicide this month. The first occurred in Murray on June 7 when Johnathon Reeves reportedly shot and killed his fiancée, 34-year-old Jaimie Salazar and their 2-year-old son, Jordan Reeves, before turning the gun on himself.

According to Utah Department of Health numbers there are three domestic violence related suicides each month.

State numbers also show roughly 80 children every year witness their mother's murder or attempted murder.

Less than 60 percent of those kids receive any counseling.

To reverse the trend, the state legislature approved funding in the upcoming fiscal year for a program called the Lethality Assessment Protocol.

The program includes a set of 11 questions used to determine the risk the domestic violence will turn deadly.

Local law enforcement officers and others confronting domestic violence will be trained to use the Lethality Assessment Protocol, which is already used in 30 other states.

"We find if we ask certain questions to fidelity and we get a score the higher the risk, the more questions that are answered ‘yes,’ the more important it is for that person to get some victim advocacy support,” said Jenn Oxborrow, domestic violence program administrator for the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Those in need of victim advocacy can call Utah Domestic Violence Coalition hotline at 1-800-897-5465.