Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Census Worker Bill Sparkman's Death a Suicide, Staged for the "Benefit" of Others

Back in September, William Sparkman, a part time census worker, was found hanging from a tree in rural Kentucky with the word "FED" written across his chest.  At the time, the question of whether he was killed as part of a vast right-wing reaction against the census was being bandied about in the press.  Today, word has come that Sparkman killed himself.  He apparently intentionally staged the scene to look like a homicide so his son could collect on multiple life insurance policies Sparkman had recently taken out, totaling in excess of $600,000.  Those policies would not pay in the event of a suicide.

The traumatic death of a loved one is incredibly hard.  When that death is a suicide, it is much more complicated.  When CISM teams plan a response to a suicide, we expect to hear a lot of regret and guilt.  In this instance, police report that Sparkman told someone exactly what he was planning to do, and they did not take him seriously.  That person must be feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders, although of course it's impossible to know whether, had they responded differently, it would have made any difference.

In addition, it's not uncommon for those who kill themselves to express that they think their families will be better off without them, and that sentiment complicates the situation for survivors.  Inevitably, they do not feel "better off" and often feel a combination of anger at their loved one for thinking they would be and guilt that somehow this happened because of them.  It's not uncommon to hear families say, "why didn't he care about me enough to not do this?"

Sparkman's death takes this to a whole new level.  In this instance, Sparkman quite clearly was thinking about his family when he killed himself.  He took the time and effort to elaborately stage the scene so his son could get his life insurance money.  He cared enough to make it look like a murder.

Sparkman had a son that he cared about and wanted to help financially.  He wasn't thinking rationally enough to recognize that killing himself would cause much more than monetary damage, however, or he was in too much psychological pain for that to be a deciding factor.  People who attempt suicide are like fish drowning in a bowl of water.  Everything they need is available to them, and they can't seem to see or take advantage of it.  That isn't anyone's fault, but when it happens to you, it's hard not to feel like it is.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
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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