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‘We don’t shy away from it’: University of Idaho honors 10 years since Katy Benoit’s death

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 22, 2021

At first glance, a bench outside the University of Idaho’s administration building looks a lot like other statues on campus. It’s a sleek black granite that gleams in the sunshine and gets coated with snow during the Moscow, Idaho, winters.

But it’s not just another bench. On it reads “Katy Benoit: In memory of Katy’s journey, her care of others, her willingness to speak up, and her courage to make a difference.”

On Sunday, the sounds of some of Benoit’s favorite orchestral songs emanated from the cello of retired music professor Bill Wharton, who had trained Benoit as a cellist since she was in elementary school. Wharton played in Benoit’s memory during a memorial ceremony for the former UI student.

Sunday marked exactly 10 years since Benoit died. She was a 22-year-old graduate student at the UI who had made a name as a talented cellist but was on her way to pursuing a career in psychology.

Abby Lute, a childhood friend of Benoit who also played the cello with her, said Benoit had a knack for making friends and being involved in her community.

“She wasn’t afraid to cross lines and to connect with people,” Lute said. “In my personal experience, this takes a lot of courage.”

Her parents, aunt and older brother sat in the front row. Around them stood dozens of faculty, sorority and fraternity students and community members.

They may not have known Katy, said her brother, Andy Benoit, but she changed the UI campus for good.

“It’s interesting because a lot of the people who were here when it happened aren’t anymore, and a lot of the students here never met her but are still affected by this and still want to show support,” Andy Benoit said.

Katy Benoit died of 11 gunshot wounds in August 2011 fired at her from a former professor and romantic partner. Friends of hers at the time said she had faced abuse in the relationship, according to a report from the Associated Press at the time.

Benoit’s death prompted the university to re-evaluate the way they handled relationship violence for students, particularly in ensuring mental health and domestic violence resources existed on campus, said Blaine Eckles, UI dean of students.

The campus designated September as the Katy Benoit Campus Safety Awareness Month, and they also have a campus safety fund in her name to help those who struggle to leave unsafe or abusive relationships.

“Katy has not been forgotten. She’s celebrated,” UI Vice President Torrey Lawrence said. “We honor her passing and we are doing everything we can to learn from that experience and move forward and support our students everywhere we can.”

These resources include counseling and instruction for students on how to spot signs of abuse in a loved one because data shows these instances can go from dangerous to deadly, as they did for Benoit.

In 2020, there were three homicides in Spokane County committed by an intimate partner in 2020, according to data from the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In 2019, there were six. In Idaho, there were eight domestic-violence related deaths in 2019 and three in 2020, according to the most recent data from the Boise chapter of the Women and Children’s Alliance.

Andy Benoit said Eckles approached their family about hosting a service for Katy, to which they agreed because acknowledging her loss helped them heal.

Every year, their family visits her headstone on her birthday and on the anniversary of her death, he said.

“We don’t shy away from it,” he said. “We don’t let it be the elephant in the room.”

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