Note: Cross posted from [wp angelfury] A Human Rights Issue-Custodial Justice.
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Experts: More men killing their families
Saturday, December 5, 2009 3:15 AM
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Sociologists call the men "family annihilators."
Criminologists call their crime "familicide."
Murder-suicides involving those who kill their families, and then themselves, appear to be increasing.
Between 2006 and 2008, only two children died in murder-suicides in central and southeastern Ohio, according to stories in The Dispatch.
On Thursday, a Westerville father shot his two daughters, ages 11 and 15, in their bed and then killed himself at the foot of the bed the girls shared.
The Dobsons were the fourth area family to be wiped out this year.
Their deaths increased the area's 2009 murder-suicide toll to 13: four fathers and husbands, three wives and mothers and six children age 15 or younger.
Based on anecdotal evidence, because no one keeps national statistics, the number of families destroyed by murder-suicide is becoming frightening, said Katherine van Wormer, a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls, who studies such cases.
"This is a phenomenon that is taking place all across the U.S. There's a huge increase," she said. "It was considered so rare before it's become a very middle-class crime."
Financial problems amid tough economic times and "copycat" cases in which suicidal men perhaps decided to take their families with them after seeing news coverage of other murder-suicides might be part of it, she said.
In addition to financial concerns, marital breakups and difficulties, depression, mental illness and substance abuse also are underlying contributors to the mass murders of families, generally by their "controlling" patriarchs, van Wormer said.
Mental illness often is at the root of murder-suicides, said Karen S. Days, president of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence.
"The person believes they're doing the child a favor by removing them from this bad, bad world," Days said. She said there almost always are warning signs, but they are ignored. "We no longer say it's a private, family issue," she said. "We have to stop ignoring them."
A review of Dispatch archives found 31 cases of murder-suicide in the area in which 69 people have died since 2006, with only six cases involving children.
Studies and experts suggest that between 1,000 and 1,500 people die in the United States each year in murder-suicides. Three studies of murder-suicide by the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., found that more than 90 percent involve male killers and that about 90 percent were committed with firearms.
In the first half of 2007, about 12 percent of homicide victims (45) in murder-suicides were children, according to the group's latest study. Ohio ranked eighth among the states, with 21 people dying in 10 murder-suicides in those six months.
Nearly three-fourths of murder-suicides nationally involved "intimate partners" -- spouses, ex-spouses or girlfriends or boyfriends, with the deaths commonly tied to "a breakdown in the relationship," according to the study. Domestic violence was a common warning sign.
The deaths in Westerville were unusual in that the man's ex-wife wasn't killed, suggests a summary of homicide-suicide research prepared by Phillip Resnick, a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Two out of three fathers who kill their children and themselves also kill their wives. "Suicide notes suggest that the men see themselves altruistically delivering their family from continued hardships," one study stated. "These men are very attached and possessive of their children," said another.
"The prospect of losing his family through death strikes the father as no more disastrous than the prospect of losing them through desertion. Better, perhaps, since at least he has called the shots and exerted his authority."
Dispatch information specialist Julie Albert contributed to this story.