It seems like every day the news has another story about some guy who guns down the wife and kids, optionally committing suicide. The question, “why?” is too small to ponder in view of the enormity of the evil shown by these types of mass murderers. Lately these guys who kill their kids and optionally themselves and their wives (or girlfriends) are called “family annihilators”.
Yet, unlike serial killers of strangers, researchers have not really gotten to the “why” of family annihilation. There’s not a lot of data here for a number of reasons — first and foremost, mass murder of strangers sells, not mass murder of your family. So the press doesn’t cover these instances, and there is no public outcry.
Lately though there is public interest and there are some preliminary studies dividing up “family annihilators” according to a mad/sad dichotomy.
Some men are angry: motivated by anger toward the wife, and they extract a revenge killing. The wife is blamed for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g that could be wrong in the guy’s life. There is no self-examination, no insight. This make sme think that the brain cells related to “self-knowledge” are unplugged. The wife is killed, and the children are murdered as an extension of the wife.
Sometimes the children are murdered just to hurt the wife by destroying that which she loves. No thought for the children as humans is given whatsoever — they are mere instrumentalities in a bigger scheme to extract revenge.
Or, the man is despondent, feeling like a failure, and depressed — and see killing off the wife and the kids as a way to avoid their suffering as well as his own.
Both of these have to do with entitlement and control. The father feels entitled to control the fate of his wife (or girlfriend) and children. (See the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative newsletter Summer 2006 here at pages 4-7 for a discussion).
I’m focusing on male perpetrators because they are by far the most common, according to a recent report (discussed below, HT: Docuticker, yet again). Although there are a few female family killers, they tend to be truly psychotic or have other serious problems connecting with reality.
- Of the 554 murder-suicide deaths, 234 were suicides and 320 were homicides. Ninety-five percent of murder-suicides were committed by men.
- Nine murder-suicide events occurred in the United States each week during the study period.
- Seventy-three percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner (spouse, common-law spouse, ex-spouse, or girlfriend/boyfriend). Of these, 94 percent were females killed by their intimate partners.
- Forty-five of the homicide victims were children and teens less than 18 years of age. Forty-four children and teens less than 18 years of age were survivors who witnessed some aspect of the murder-suicide.
- Most murder-suicides occurred in the home (75 percent).
Here are some excerpts from the most recent report, “American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States (2008)” (footnotes are deleted, but the source materials are cited in the published report):
Most murderers in murder-suicides are male
In this study, 95 percent of the offenders were male. Other studies analyzing
murder-suicide have found that most perpetrators of murder-suicide are male—more than 90 percent in recent studies of the United States. Another study which only looked at murder-suicides involving couples noted that more than 90 percent were perpetrated by men. This is consistent with homicides in general, in which 89 percent of homicides are committed by male offenders. However, most homicides involve male victims killed by male offenders (65 percent), whereas a male victim being specifically targeted by a male offender in a murder-suicide is relatively rare.
CALIFORNIA: In June, Kevin Morrisey, 51, shot and killed his wife, Dr. Mamiko Kawai, 40, and their two children, Nikki, eight, and Kim, six, in a parking lot. Morrisey left a note explaining that the failing business he and his wife owned was at a financial breaking point that could not be remedied. Morrisey purchased the handgun used in the incident less than two months earlier at a gun store near the location of the company. Morrisey’s brother and neighbors claimed he had once been employed by the CIA. A friend said, “They were the family we all want to be a part of.”
Most murder-suicides involve an intimate partner
The most prevalent type of murder-suicide was between two intimate partners, with the man killing his wife or girlfriend. Such events are commonly the result of a breakdown in the relationship. The average age difference between the offender and primary victim was 6.0 years. Overall, the age difference ranged from none to 23 years. (Other studies on fatal violence for spouses have found that there is a greater risk of homicide victimization as the age difference between the husband and wife increases.) In this study, 73 percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner. Of these, 94 percent were females killed by their intimate partners.
CALIFORNIA: In March, 28-year-old Fredy Melara shot and killed his girlfriend of four years, 24-yearold Gabriela Gonzalez. He also shot his two daughters, aged three and 13 months, in the head before killing himself. Family members noted that Melara, a security guard, had been more controlling of Gonzalez after their recent move to the neighborhood. The couple was heard shouting and arguing just before the incident.
Most murder-suicides with three or more victims involve a male “family annihilator” — subcategory of intimate partner murder-suicide
Most multiple-victim murder-suicides involving a male murderer and a large number (three or more) of victims are perpetrated by family annihilators. Family annihilators are murderers who kill their wives/girlfriends and children, as well as other family members, before killing themselves. In many cases, a family annihilator is suffering from depression and has financial or other problems and feels the family is better off dying with him than remaining alive to deal with the problems at hand.
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NEBRASKA: In January, Dick Wilkinson, a 62-year-old grandfather shot and killed his daughter, 26, son-in-law, 35, and two grandchildren, three and six, in their beds at the home in which they all lived. There were years of tension between Dick Wilkinson and his daughter, Jaime Lee, which involved allegations of she and her husband Darrell stealing cash from Wilkinson and allegations of abuse between Wilkinson and Jaime. In 2003, the court granted Jaime Lee a protective order against her father for one month before being dropped. The application for the protective order cited that Wilkinson kept guns and knives at home. The family had moved out of the home for a week because tension was so high. They returned the night of the shooting with plans to move out permanently within 48 hours.