Familicide: The New Domestic Violence?

Actually, familicide is nothing new. It’s just occurring at a more rapid and alarming rate. Parents who kill their children and then turn the weapons on themselves do so for various reasons. Those reasons tend to differ among men and women.

Men are often driven to kill their loved ones because they feel as if they’ve failed to provide for their children. Woman are generally motivated by feelings of altruism, a selfless regard for the well-being of others. However, women tend to have a high failure rate of suicide, therefore, their cases are often not classified as familicide.  The women who fail at taking their own own lives are more than likely charged with murdering their children.

Another factor that drives women to kill their own children is psychosis. They actually believe they are protecting their kids from demonic possession. Death would end the child’s suffering.

With the downturn of today’s economy looming over the heads of American’s, police have seen an increase of familicide across the nation. Again, the father’s failure to provide seems to be the motivating factor.

Cases of familicide and attempted familicide:

– Sametta Heyward left her two kids in a hot car. Their bodies were discovered under the kitchen sink wrapped in trash bags.

– Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler, killed his wife and 7-year-old son, then he killed himself.

– Thomas Reilly, a New Jersey engineer, drowned his kids and then hung himself.

– California businessman Kevin Morrissey shot his wife and children and then took his own life. Morrisey left a note stating he’d committed the act because of financial stress.

Are these cases on the rise?

The number of these cases seems to rising. In fact, last week two families were found dead just miles apart. Police in the Towson, Md. area (just outside Baltimore) are investigating:

– Christopher Wood shot and killed his wife and kids and then killed himself.

– William Parente, a Maryland lawyer, and his family were found dead in a Towson, Md. hotel. It is believed to be a case of familicide.

Both families were experiencing severe financial difficulites.

The Violence Policy Center in Washington D.C. reports an average of 9-10 murder suicides each week. But familicides occur only 2-3 times in a six-month period.

13 replies
  1. Rita L. Smith
    Rita L. Smith says:

    Depression is harder, because people tend to go on with their lives, while in a depression. They interact as normal in many cases. The changes are really subtle… Emotional outbursts come to mind. I.E. Over reacting to a situation by screaming.

    Anger is not always recognized as a symptom of depression. Little things like cutting out some of the usual activities may not be noticed for many reasons. The depressed person is working more, spending time with family, getting older, etc.

    Even when the depression is recognized, if the person is not presenting as dangerous to himself or to others, they will not be hospitalized.


  2. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    I agree with your comment about watching for signs in those around us. If you see someone struggling, timely intervention, at the least, will help the person cope & prevent such tragedies (if the course had been in that direction). But many observers either will not recognize the signs (they can be extremely subtle) or will be in denial that the signs represent anything suicidal/homicidal (the denial esp from loved ones). In addition, if the person is an adult, they can’t be forced to seek treatment. And as Lee mentioned, a mentally ill person many times does not recognize that he/she is mentally ill.

  3. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:


    I wanted to commend you on succinctly summarizing this issue. It reminded me of an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that was dedicated to the topic of Violence Against Women. It was published back June 17, 1992 (Vol 267, No. 23 in fact if anyone wants to follow this citation.)

    One of the many articles in that edition was one titled “The Epidemiology of Murder-Suicide” by Peter M. Marzuk, MD; Kenneth Tardiff, MD, MPH; and Charles S. Hirsch, MD.

    They classified murder-suicide as “a dramatic, violent event in which an individual commits homicide and shortly thereafter commits suicide.” The statistic they cited to indicate its prevalence was “1000 to 1500 combined suicide and homicide deaths annually in the United States alone, placing their mortality on par with other diseases such as pulmonary tuberculosis (1467 deaths), viral hepatitis (1290 deaths), influenza (1943 deaths) and meningitis (1156 deaths.)”

    I wonder what those figures would be today 17 years later.

    The authors broke the broader category of murder-suicide down into categories such as: spousal murder-suicide (amorous jealousy), spousal murder-suicide (declining health), filicide-suicide, familicide-suicide and extrafamilial murder-suicide.

    They concluded that in filicide (murdering of children) – suicide that “(t)he most important diagnosis in maternal familicide-suicide is depression, often with psychotic features. The depressed suicidal mother may psychotically perceive her infant as an ‘extension’ of herself, and both deaths, in effect, represent an ‘extended’ suicide….In effect, the mother perceives the child as solely dependent on her for care and sees a need to escape and ‘save’ herself and her children from a painful, ruinous world.”

    The extrafamilial murder-suicides are what we commonly refer to as “going postal” rages where a man (generally) goes on a shooting rampage and then turns the gun on himself. That type of thing is becoming far, far too common.

    The authors felt that the “most convincing unifying diagnosis common to all subtypes of murder-suicide is depression.”

    That deomonstrates that the discussion of mental illness in this comment thread is spot on.

    There’s more that I had underlined years ago in that article, but I think I’ll stop there.

    Thank you for bringing up this important topic. We should all bear in mind that a bad economy can have deep and disturbing ripple effects throughout our society. We need to keep a look out for signs of mental instability in our friends, acquaintances and loved ones before things escalate and become tragedies such as you’ve described here.

    Be well my friend,

  4. SZ
    SZ says:

    I have a mean drag queen dress I made when I first moved to San Francisco !


    There is a fair amount of this happening here as well. We also have the guy who faked is death so his family would get insurance. He is trying the temp insane bit. I am just not buying it.

  5. Rita L. Smith
    Rita L. Smith says:

    People who are depressed are not always able to judge situations clearly. Their reasoning process has broken down, probably due to a chemical imbalance in their brain. Situational Depression is common, thus the link to the economy.

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I think that’s where the mental issues come in the picture. I doubt they fully understand either, but they believe they’re doing the right thing.

  7. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    What I don’t understand is if their sense of failure to provide is the issue, why not just kill themselves? I don’t see why they kill their families, too.

  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I agree. People who commit acts that aren’t the norm have underlying reasons for doing what they do. Still, the financial aspect in these cases is the trigger that drives these men to commit their horrible acts of violence. That is part of the psychological problem – their sense of failure to provide.

    This is no different than the reasons serial killers do what they do. They’re driven by a need to achieve a goal. Killing satisfies them. Do they have a mental problem? Sure.

  9. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Queen is right. (I can’t get used to anyone besides me being called Queen–that’s how hubby and sons refer to me!) Those who commit these crimes have to be mentally ill. No matter how distressed over finances, a normal man does not hold his children under water until they’re dead.

    As bad as the economy is, it has been MUCH worse. (Look at figures for the late 1970s and early 1980s. Unemployment was much higher and inflation was through the roof.) Some of these unstable people are using the economy as an excuse instead of getting help for the underlying problems.

  10. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    The person who commits these acts has an underlying mental health issue. The “normal” man who loses his job doesn’t commit murder/suicide. He goes out looking for another job, maybe working a couple of jobs to make ends meet. Losing the job or the bad economy is just the stressor that sets the unbalanced person off. The stressor could be anything that happens at any time.

    Is there an increase because the economy is worse than it has been in decades & more are feeling the stress? Do we live in a more stressful society now so that more people suffering from these issues are closer to the edge?

    And while there is less of a stigma attached to seeking help for mental health problems now, I think people (esp men) are reluctant to do so. Seeking medical help for a knee injury is okay. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It should be the same with mental illness, but for many, it’s not.

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