'Keep going,' Alexis Somers tells fellow crime victims at annual conference

Published: Friday, April 25 2014 5:45 p.m. MDT

Alexis Michele Somers speaks about the murder of her mother and about her family ordeal during the 27th annual Crime Victims Conference at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Friday, April 25, 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It has been 2,571 days since Alexis Somers last spoke to her mother, smelled her perfume or held her hand.

She said Friday she feels as if she's been ripped into two people: who she was before her mother's death and who she has become after.

On April 11, 2007, Michele MacNeill was found dead in a bathtub in her Pleasant Grove home. Almost seven years later, Somers' father, Martin MacNeill, was convicted of murdering his wife.

Somers talked about her family's long battle to bring her father to justice, despite an incomplete initial investigation, law enforcement's hesitance to reopen the case, a custody battle and her father's lies and manipulations.

"Keep going even if you think all hope is lost," she advised in her remarks at the close of the two-day Crime Victims Conference at the state Capitol.

The crowd of roughly 150 people was made up of first responders, law enforcement, fire and emergency management teams, advocates for victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and other areas, social workers, lawyers, those who work in juvenile or criminal justice, therapists and survivors.

Somers said she hoped to "bring a message of hope" to victims who are seeking justice.

"I know my mom would want some good to come of this," Somers said.

She left attendees with four lessons: be aware of sociopaths and avoid being fooled by them; conduct thorough initial investigations to avoid delays with justice; "listen and fight for truth, even if it's an uphill battle;" and to victims, don't give up.

Somers exemplified how victims can cope with trauma in constructive ways, according to James Swink, chairman of the Utah Council on Victims of Crimes.

"Trauma really impacts lives. Individuals can cope with that and have really positive outcomes" when they help others, he said.

During the two-day conference, attendees learned about human trafficking, domestic violence treatment, sex offenders in the justice system, how to break cycles of violence and how to effectively respond to trauma, among other topics. They also heard from Aurora Police Sgt. Cassadee Carlson, who handled media, social media and public information in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., shooting in July of 2012.

Keynote speaker William Kellibrew said communities need to "realize the prevalence of trauma," which will enable responders and communities to presume trauma in those they work with.

"(Trauma) transcends the socioeconomic boundaries, it transcends communities, it transcends gender, it transcends age and it transcends religious beliefs. It can impact an entire community," he said.

He cited a 1995 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry that showed almost 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women in the United States are exposed to violence at some point in their lifetime.

When Kellibrew was 10, he witnessed the murder of his mother and brother. He said he wished someone had asked him at the time what was most important to him right then. Other than his mother, he said, it would have been the Matchbox cars that he collected.

Responders should ask victims, "What is the most important thing to you right now?" so the individual's basic needs are met.

"We comfort first. We teach later," he said.

Because of the high occurrence of trauma, it is important to approach everyone with compassion, Kellibrew said.

The purpose of the conference is both for training and networking. Those who work with victims in Utah can cultivate new skills and learn about resources available to them and to victims, according to Utah Department of Human Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Sollis. The conference also provides a venue for them to hear inspirational messages.

At the conclusion of the conference, Swink charged attendees to "go home and do better" in their realms of influence.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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