Crime

Florida among top states for murder-suicides

Police continue to work at the scene of a hostage standoff where a police officer was shot Monday morning, June 11, 2018, in Orlando. Police said a man suspected of battering his girlfriend wounded a police officer late Sunday and barricaded himself inside an apartment with several young children. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Police continue to work at the scene of a hostage standoff where a police officer was shot Monday morning, June 11, 2018, in Orlando. Police said a man suspected of battering his girlfriend wounded a police officer late Sunday and barricaded himself inside an apartment with several young children. (Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Gary Lindsey, a 35-year-old man from Orlando, barricaded himself in an apartment for almost 24 hours with four children. Despite the efforts of the police to negotiate with him, the man ended up fatally shooting each of the kids and then killed himself.

The tragedy, at the beginning of June, is not an isolated case, but the most recent incident of a trend that seems to spread throughout the country.

A recent study called "The American Roulette," by the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, concluded that 663 people died in the country during the first six months of 2017 — about 11 cases per week — in incidents classified as murder-suicides. The center reported that 367 people were killed and 296 committed suicide.

The report says there is no national database to track murder-suicide cases, but cites medical studies that estimate that 1,000 to 1,500 incidents occur each year in the United States.

The study, based on news reports, comes to light after recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating the increasing rate of suicide rate. Suicide is now the 10th highest cause of death in the country.

Florida has the third highest number of murder-suicide deaths and cases in the country, behind Texas and California.

In the first half of 2017 in Florida, there were 25 incidents that left 61 people dead.

Jeremy Pettit, an expert in depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior at Florida International University, told el Nuevo Herald that murder-suicides are primarily a societal and public health problem, not a policing or criminal one. However, there is little research on the subject, he said.

"Until we make mental health and suicide prevention a priority on local, state, and national levels, suicide rates and murder-suicides will likely continue to increase as they have over the last 15 years," he added.

Pettit said there are many reasons why someone commits suicide after killing another person, but added that in most cases, the decision to take his own life precedes the murder.

Citing the American psychologist Thomas Joiner, Pettit explained that murder and suicide come from from distorted beliefs about mercy, justice, and duty, among other virtues.

"For example, a man who has decided to end his life may believe that he has been terribly wronged by others, and out of his own distorted view of justice, he decides to kill those who have wronged him before ending his own life", he said.

Another case may be that of a woman who decides to end her life and assumes the idea of murdering her children as a merciful act to avoid pain and suffering, Pettit said.

Such was the case of Stephanie Hoover, from a small town in South Dakota, who killed her husband and son before taking her own life. In a handwritten letter, Hoover explained that she decided to kill her husband because “he can't take care of the children alone nor could he provide for them. They would loose the house and they would not have anything”, and her son because “he is better in heaven with his mother, where I can take care of him and be at peace.”

The study details that 9 out of 10 killers were men and used firearms to commit their crimes. Victims were women in 69 percent of the cases.

What can be done?

Due to the increase of suicides and murder-suicides cases, it is recommended to pay attention to the main warning signs:

Dramatic mood changes.

Statements that indicate feeling hopeless, trapped or unable to escape from a problem.

Agitation, rage or aggression.

Increase in the consumption of alcohol or other substances.

Withdrawal from friends and family.

Pettit. who has written more than 100 academic documents on the subject, suggests that when any of these signs are present, specially in individuals with violence history towards themselves or towards others, it is time to be concerned and take action.

First, take the time to ask the person if they are OK or if you can help them. Then, listen to him, Pettit proposes. "Resist the urge to jump in and “solve” the problems or minimize the distress people experience. Let them know you care, they are not alone, and help is available.”

Then, it is advisable to connect them with a help line, such as the national number 800-273-8255, or with local mental health specialists. If you think that the person needs immediate help, you can call 911 or take the person to the nearest hospital emergency department.

The Violence Policy Center, recommends that a national data base should be established, to track murder-suicide cases. Also, that stricter laws be enacted to prevent domestic violence and restrict access to weapons to those most at risk of committing murder-suicide, as people with a history of domestic violence or who have previously threatened to commit suicide.

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