Sunday, 8 May 2011

FILICIDE with Suicide: the issue discussed

OAK HARBOR -- Alan Atwater abused his wife Dawn, forced her to quit her job and encouraged her to have sex with one of his friends, family friends told authorities.
But despite problems in their marriage, Atwater told his aunt he was determined to change and make his wife understand she and their children were most important to him.
Dawn Atwater, however, told him and her friends she wanted to separate, according to Ottawa County Sheriff's Office reports.
These details, released last week, provide some possible explanation as to why Alan Atwater might have killed his wife and then himself with a gun April 16. Dawn Atwater told a friend her husband had threatened to commit suicide if she ever left him, according to reports.
"I'm just sick," Colette Yontz, a friend of Dawn Atwater, told investigators. "Just sick because we all knew this was going to happen."
What is more of a mystery is why he turned the gun on the couple's children, Ashley, 4, Isaac, 2, and Brady, 1.
Killing the children doesn't fit with the normal profile for murder-suicides related to marital problems, said Katherine van Wormer, professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa and author of "Death by Domestic Violence: Preventing the Murders and the Murder-Suicides."
In cases where men kill their entire families -- an action known as familicide -- usually the man has lost his job or has other financial problems where he feels he can no longer provide for his family, she said.
"He may have killed her and felt he couldn't leave them," van Wormer said of the Atwater children.

Reasons for killings

There are five things that motivate people to kill their children, said Phillip Resnick, professor of psychology at Case Western University.
They are: Altruism, the idea the children are better off dead; revenge against the spouse, often over a custody battle or infidelity; the perpetrator is acutely psychotic; unwanted children, usually newborns killed by unwed mothers; and child battering, where a parent goes too far with disciplining a child and accidentally kills the child.
"If a man kills himself along with the children, it's more likely to be altruistic," Resnick said. "A man believes his family is better off in Heaven than in the world."
Resnick, who said he likely has interviewed more parents who killed their children than anyone else in the United States, is considered an expert on the subject. He testified for the defense in the trial of Andrea Yates, a Texas woman who drowned her children in a bathtub in 2001, and consulted on the case of Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who murdered her two young children in 1994.
In 95 percent of familicide cases, men are the perpetrators, he said. Two-thirds of the time, a man who kills his children and himself also kills his wife, he said.
"Women may kill their children and themselves but rarely will kill their husbands," he said.
Men tend to feel responsible for the entire family and do not want to leave them behind, Resnick said. In situations with domestic problems, the men sometimes feel they cannot live without their partners or consider their partners the source of their pain, van Wormer said.
"Often these are men who are very dependent emotionally on their wives," she said. "They justify it as saying she's killing him, so he's going to kill her because she's the source of his pain.
"Once they take this first step, they feel they have to take the second step (suicide)."
Although Alan Atwater may not have planned to kill himself, he apparently had settled on doing so when he called the sheriff's office to report the deaths of his wife and children.
In that call, he calmly admitted to killing them and then said he was going to kill himself. Then he hung up.
Resnick, speaking in general, said people who commit suicide may be agitated at first while trying to decide whether or not to go through with it.
"Once they make a decision to do it, they feel at peace," he said.

Statistics elusive

Every year, more than 32,000 people commit suicide, and another 18,000 are victims of homicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Determining how many of those deaths result from homicide-suicide cases, however, is more difficult.
The CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System collects data from 16 states -- not including Ohio -- so numbers from those states cannot be considered representative of the entire country. In 2008, 175 people in those states died of homicide followed by suicide, according to the system.
What is known about these cases is that a past history of domestic abuse is the biggest risk factor, according to the National Institute of Justice, which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. A study about murder-suicides conducted by Jacquelyn Campbell, professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Nursing, showed domestic violence had been a past problem in 70 percent of the cases.
However, 25 percent of these incidents of violence showed up in police arrest records, according to the institute. The researchers in Campbell's study learned about the past incidents after interviewing family and friends of the homicide victims, according to the institute.

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