Nodaway County Sheriff Randy Strong presented an overview of the first murder case he investigated in Maryville.
Strong spoke at the Charles Johnson Theater for the beginning of Karen Hawkins Memorial Week March 2, discussing details and information of the case that led to Hawkins’ death.
Strong praised Sigma Sigma Sigma for annually holding the memorial week to keep Hawkins’ memory alive. After Strong presented, Christen Armstrong, a Univerrsity of Central Missouri Sigma Sigma Sigma alumna, spoke about her experience with sexual assault.
In the Spring of 1995, Dennis Lee Jones, a Maryville resident assaulted and killed Hawkins, a Northwest student and Sigma Sigma Sigma member. Jones and Hawkins knew each other from high school.
Maryville Public Safety promptly got Jones to confess to the crime, whereupon he led the authorities to several crime scenes. Jones hanged himself in his holding cell of the Nodaway County Jail before he could go to trial.
An emotional night for some, sniffles and teary eyes consumed the crowd of Northwest students, faculty and community members who listened to first-person accounts of the trauma.
Strong, standing on the stage of the CJT, spoke in a low shaky voice and said his experience working the Hawkins case spurred a realization of the unfortunate commonality of sexual assault.
“The tragedy of this case is not only did he take Karen’s (Hawkins) life. … He hurt those that were close to her,” Strong said. “It touched Karen’s family and friends ... and his family, who were good people on all accounts.”
The Hawkins Memorial Week is held annually by Northwest Sigma Sigma Sigma to remember her name and raise awareness of sexual assault and violence.
The week of events has grown over the years since Hawkins’ death to include speeches by those involved in investigating the case, as well as games, silent walks and self defense classes.
Junior Maya Rupard said the week of March 2-5, known as “break the silence, stop the violence,” has touched members of the sorority for years.
“The main thing we get out of it is encouragement,” Rupard said. “Having a connection and hearing new stories every year and hearing about Karen (Hawkins) reminds me how grateful I am to have all these people in my life.”
Rupard also said she has heard different kinds of speeches every year Sigma Sigma Sigma holds the memorial week, getting different perspectives and accounts from people who had first-hand experience with sexual assault.
When UCM alumna Armstrong shared her vivid experience with two different sexual assaults, a couple members of the sorority were so overcome with emotion that they momentarily left. Telling her story of working through emotional pain and health issues, Armstrong reiterated to her audience that victims, though they often feel so, are not alone.
Armstrong said she has been fighting the trauma of the two events her whole life, and said the emotional implications of sexual assault are not talked about as much as they should be.
“The reason people don’t report (sexual assault) is for a variety of reasons,” Armstrong said. “One of them could be they are afraid they aren’t going to be believed because it’s going to come down to he said, she said. And for years people would show up and they weren’t believed.”
Speaking briefly toward the effects of the #MeToo movement, Armstrong said victims are now put in a position that they can feel support like never before.
“For you girls to be doing this … since 1995 … you should be very proud to be part of it,” Armstrong said. “It is a conversation that needs to continue.”
Alumni and Chapter Advisor for Sigma Sigma Sigma P.J. Smith, a friend of Armstrong, said the memorial week speaks toward the ability of members to be self aware and feel supported.
“There is nothing shameful about having a professional help you take care of your soul,” Smith said.
The memorial week included two additional events, with a photo opportunity for organizations Wednesday called “Cheesin’ for Karen,” and a silent memorial walk 7:30 p.m. March 5 at the Memorial Bell Tower.
There are free local and national resources for victims of sexual assault and violence. The Children and Family Center of Nodaway County have a 24-hour hotline at 660-562-2320, and the national hotline for sexual assault is 1-800-656-4673.