Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Another Family Gone


Five members of a single family in Beason, Illinois were found dead late Monday, and a small child is in the hospital. Do you have the feeling you've heard this story before? I did when I saw it. Another family was murdered in Florida over the weekend. And one in Virginia. And Georgia a few weeks ago. It seems like this is happening a lot lately.

I started searching online for statistics relating to this phenomenon, and while I didn't find what I was looking for, I did learn a lot. First off, there's a name for the phenomenon of a family member killing the whole family -- "family annihilation." There are typically 16 to 20 such murders in the US per year. They are most often committed by the male head of household, and are consider an extreme form of domestic violence. Not all of the recent cases fit this profile, but a number of them do.

These cases catch our attention, but they don't seem to capture our fear the way some other ones do. This phenomenon is interesting to me, because protecting one's family is a very dearly held value for most people. Why aren't we afraid? To understand that, we have to understand what makes us afraid in the first place.

We are afraid when we fear for our own safety. But most of these cases don't cause us to fear for our safety, because the crimes are often committed by members of the same family who dies. Roughly 50% of all homicides in the United States are committed by someone known to the victim. When you have multiple victims, the numbers would seem to indicate that the perpetrator is known to one or more of them. And who knows a family better than . . . a family?

One headline from the story out of Illinois caught my attention. It read "Five Dead and Town Told to Lock It's Doors." My first reaction was that this was silly -- if the family was dead, wasn't it a family member who did it? Obviously the police would know more about that than I, and if they said to lock your doors you probably should (and that's not even addressing my astonishment that there is anyplace left in this country where people don't lock their doors all the time).

The fact of the matter is, these things don't scare most of us because we think it can't happen to us. It is certainly true that there are usually warning signs before a family member goes to this extreme of violence. But even those who live with an abusive family member don't think they will become a statistic like this. We might be better served to pay more attention to those around us, and to lock our doors with violent family members on the other side of them.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is an shocking phenomenon and it is more puzzling that our news media never explores this horrific pattern. If it is all domestic violence committed by male family members there must be some common cause stress, anger...it is the pressure of the economy and unemployment. The fact that is it not delved into more by journalist or discussed out in the open means these mass family killings by it's member will be like putting our heads in the sand.

Colleen said...

Most of all horrible things that happen to people are caused by people they know...most child abuse, sexual abuse, kidnappings, etc. The surprising thing is that murder is only 50%.

It's clearly not just the economy or unemployment (although I won't argue that it can cause spikes). Retired, comfortable people do their share of this sort of thing. It's an old problem...when you look into the history of some authors, like LM Montgomery, you discover a lot of abuse, from the 19th century.

Have domestic murder rates changed from the 19th C through today? Can we even know, due to inadequate reporting?

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is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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