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Monday, June 29, 2015
Family murder-suicide: Why do they do it?
In the past 18 months, the members of five Utah families have died at the hands of a parent or partner, who then took his or her own life.
Of the 14 victims, 10 were children. All were killed alongside their families inside their own homes. The overall toll: 20 dead.
It's an alarming spike — only two "familicides" took place in the previous three years — which raises the questions: Why are people killing their whole families before killing themselves? And what can the community do about it?
Researching the why • To try to better understand murder-suicides, University of Utah professors Sonia Salari and Carrie Sillito researched 730 cases nationwide from 1999-2005 and observed a number of similarities.
Salari said in a recent interview that the killers are almost always men, and a gun is by far the most frequent method used to end lives. The professor also distinguished between two different mindsets held by the killers, which often determine how many others will die along with them.
She said that if the perpetrator has homicidal intent, they likely will kill their spouse — leaving the children physically unharmed — and then will kill themselves "out of desperation" to avoid facing consequences and criminal charges.
However, when someone takes their entire family with them, it's more likely that he or she was suicidal, Salari said.
"It's possible that they are not recognizing the autonomy of the victims to exist independently of them," Salari said. "So they might be thinking, 'Oh, well, my suicide will harm them so I'm just going to make it so they don't realize what happened.' "
This is called "over-enmeshment," Salari said: When a person views family members as something they control, or they don't see any boundaries between themselves, their spouse and their children.
"It's really not like they lose their minds," Salari said. "We looked very closely at our cases, trying to see if somebody had a psychotic break and, actually, it was almost so rare, it hardly showed up at all."
Forensic psychologist Mark Zelig said the motivation to kill can differ between men and women. He said women are usually depressed and suicidal, but soon realize they don't want to leave their children in the world alone.
"They are thinking of killing themselves and the next thought that dawns on them is that their children would have a rough time," Zelig said. "[They think,] 'Because I love my children, I will take them to heaven with me so I can take care of them.' "
But the motive for men, Zelig said, can be rooted in jealousy issues with their partner.
"They are afraid and oftentimes it's delusional," he said. "Oftentimes, there's no basis for it."
A job loss or other stresses can contribute to the decision to commit murder-suicide, Salari said, adding that the events are "never catastrophic enough to warrant" such a deadly reaction.
"To have [children] dead is never better than enduring some kind of hardship," she said. "That is the worst possible outcome we could have. ... What [the killer] perpetrated was the most severe form of domestic violence."
Five family murder-suicides since 2014
June 21, 2015 » Police believeRussell Smith, 29, shot his wife, 26-year-old Shawna Smith, and two children — 6-year-old Taylee Smith and 2-year-old Blake Smith — inside their Roy home on Father’s Day before turning the gun on himself. Police have not publicly revealed a motive for the crime.
June 7, 2015 » Johnathon Andrew Reeves, a 30-year-old Army veteran who was struggling to deal with the emotional remnants of a tour in Iraq, shot his 34-year-old fiancée, Jaime Salazar, and 2-year-old son, Jordan, before shooting himself. Police are investigating the case, and have not officially disclosed a motive.
Sept. 27, 2014 » Benjamin and Kristi Strack, along with three of their four children, were found dead in their Springville home. Investigators later determined that the 37-year-old father and 36-year-old mother committed suicide and fed their children — Benson, 14, Emery, 12 and Zion, 11 — a toxic mix of diphenhydramine and methadone. Friends told investigators that the couple were in fear of an apocalypse and that they desired to leave the evils of this world.
Jan. 16, 2014 » Lindon police officer Joshua Boren, 34, used his department-issued Glock 40-caliber semiautomatic pistol in the slayings of his 32-year-old wife, Kelly; the couple’s two children, Joshua, 7, and Haley, 5; and Kelly Boren’s mother, 55-year-old Marie King. Friends of Kelly Boren told investigators that she had been having an affair in the months before the shootings. Investigators also found text messages dated the day before the shooting in which the wife confronted Joshua Boren about drugging and sexually assaulting her.
Jan. 14, 2014 » Kyler Ramsdell-Oliva, 32, shot her two daughters, Kenadee Oliva, 13, and Isabella Oliva, 7, inside their Syracuse home before shooting herself. No motive was publicly revealed, though police records show Ramsdell-Oliva had broken off an engagement in the days before the killings and had tried to commit suicide in the past.