Twenty five years after a Billings mother and her two daughters were murdered, efforts are underway to prevent a repeat of incident and stop family violence.
And, it is being done in the memory of the slain mother and children.
The 25th Annual McGuire Memorial Conference on Family Violence will be held Sept. 11-12 at Billings Clinic. It is sponsored by the Billings Area Family Violence Task Force.
Twenty five years ago this December, the Billings community was shaken by the murders of Dr. Isabel McGuire and her daughters, Katherine, 5, and Jennifer, 4. The Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department determined that the person who shot and stabbed the mother and children was her husband of just over a year, Dr. Chris Dennis, who then killed himself with carbon monoxide gas.
News of the murder surprised few who knew Dennis well. He had a history of spousal abuse in Alaska and in Montana.
The deaths of Dr. McGuire and her daughters inspired her Billings friends, colleagues and other concerned community members to take action against domestic violence as it continues to be an issue.
Between Jan. 1, 2000 and Dec. 31, 2012, there were 73 intimate partner homicides in Montana, according to the Montana Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission.
The 25th anniversary of the McGuire Memorial Conference on Family Violence boasts a lineup of speakers from the Montana Army National Guard, the city of Billings and the Yellowstone County Attorneys Office. Speakers also include an Iraq war veteran who is a Purple Heart recipient, the military sexual trauma coordinator for the VA Montana Health Care System and a clinical psychologist who is a nationally recognized forensic consultant.
“The purpose of the conference is to educate the community so we can ultimately prevent domestic violence and sexual assault and help those who experience it,” said Maria Martin, a survivor of domestic violence and chairman of this year’s conference.
This year’s theme is: “Broken Trust: Confronting Misconceptions about Sexual Violence.” The annual conference attracts on average 120 people, though Martin said she expects more this year given it is the 25th anniversary of the conference and given the high profile college campus and military sexual assaults have been receiving in the media.
Reports of sex assault in the U.S. military are up by half, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. There were 5,061 sex assault reports in the 2013 fiscal year, which ended last September 30. That represents a 50 percent increase from the same period the year before.
About one in five women are sexually assaulted in college with more than 70 colleges currently being investigated for how they've handled sexual assault cases.
“It’s something most people don’t want to talk about,” Martin said. “But if we don’t talk about it, we can’t change it and things will always stay the same. It’s totally the hot topic right now and we need to address it.”