How Can We Understand Murder-Suicides?

Between what one wishes to become and what one has become there is a momentous gap, which will now never be closed.” 

Quote from the dissertation of Thomas Fuchs the father in the most recent murder-suicide in San Diego.

San Diego has had a string of murder-suicides over the last few months.  We struggle as a community to understand these events, especially when we see the pictures of lives that seemed filled with happiness.   In the latest of these incidents the father and children are described as having the perfect relationship.   So what do we know about these sorts of crimes?

Criminologists have coined the phrase “family annihilators” to describe these attacks.  Most of them are either men who want revenge or who act out of a misplaced sense of altruism.  For example, in the case of a bitter custody battle these men will commit the final act of domestic violence by taking the children away from the mother.  Or, in a perverse desire to spare the children from the hurt and pain caused by the hard realities of being broke, they will shield the children by taking their lives in addition to their own.  What we know about family annihilators is somewhat limited because most of them aren’t around to talk to but there are some things we can learn from looking at the research:

According to  the Violence Policy Center:

  •  In the United States in 2007, 1108 murder-suicides occurred; 95% were committed by men; 75% involved an intimate partner; and 75% were committed in the home and most with a handgun.
  • The men involved are typically “perfect citizens” and they see no other way out of a current dilemma or difficulty.  The events are planned and allow them to feel control over their destiny and their children’s.  
  • Societal factors contributing to these acts include the economy, social isolation, and shame.  These aren’t simple acts but involve a number of factors.

What can we do as a community to prevent this?  Reaching out to our neighbors is key.  Help reduce the stigma around asking for help in your community.   In San Diego the County Crisis Line number is 1(800) 479-3339. 

I will be discussing this more on KUSI (channel 9) in a half hour show on Sunday June 26 at 10 am.  For those of you not in the San Diego viewing area I will post the video next week.