I want to write about this subject but first the disclaimer. The following is in no way about this or any specific case but rather about the subject in general.
When a parent murders a child it is called filicide. There is a group called the Filicide Prevention and Education Association. Those wanting extensive information should visit this website which offers just about everything you could ever want to know about this phenomenon. They also offer information on familicide which is the killing of a family and then suicide of the perpetrator.
There are basically three reasons a father kills a child, the first is physical abuse, when a father abuses a child and then eventually takes it to far and ends up killing a child. The second is mental illness, illnesses such as depression or psychosis, the third is a custody battle type situation.
In the first instance, child abuse, it is usually pretty clear after the fact. The deaths are usually violent and show signs of rage. The father may decide to try and cover up the murders or commit suicide afterward.
In the second instance, mental illness, the cause is not as clear for police to prove motive especially when the depression or mental illness is undiagnosed. Manner and cause of death tends to be less violent. There have been cases of a father building a makeshift gas chamber, or using a car with carbon monoxide. Poisons or drugs may be used and yes while guns are considered a violent death it will still usually be a well placed shot designed to end life quickly. There may be no notes, no signs that this was planned or alternatively the parent will leave a note and have a very thought out and executed plan. Often the parent feels that they are doing a poor job at parenting or that the child will have a deprived life. They convince themselves that they are somehow doing the children a favor or allowing them to go to a better place. These types of murders are usually followed by suicide by the parent committing the murder.
In the third instance, custody battle type situations, the father feels he is being deprived of his children. Or alternatively the hate he has for his spouse or former spouse causes him to want to extract revenge on the spouse by taking away the children. "If I can't have them no one will" or "I will teach you". Often times these types of murders include the spouse but not always.
Alternatively Mothers who kill their children have a few more reasons and unlike fathers usually do not kill the spouse or father during the homicide. Research has also shown that mothers tend to kill younger children or babies while fathers tend to kill older children.
Like fathers a mother can kill her children because of mental illness or depression as well as during a child abuse or fit of rage situation. Unlike a father a mother is more likely than the father to kill an unwanted or unexpected child. A mother is also more likely than a father to kill a child who has serious illness as a mercy killing. A mother is less likely to kill for revenge or to deprive the father of the child. However, she is likely to kill a child because of feelings of jealousy or envy of the child and feelings the child receives more attention. With male children the mothers anger towards the father can be directed at a male child who might remind the mother of the father. Statistics show that a third of all mothers kill their children over some sort of depression.
After a killing like this the media clamors to find friends and family to talk about the parent and deceased children. There are always people who say what a nice father or mother or family they all were and once in a while there are a few who say they saw signs of abuse, depression, or maybe even there is a restraining order or several police calls to the residence. If there was ever a crime police wish we could prevent, wish we would never have to investigate, it is the death of a child.
I still remember vividly the first time i saw a dead child on the job. I was on the job only months when I was called to a back yard where a three year old child died after strangling herself on a back yard swing. It was the first of many young children I had to investigate after I became a detective in the juvenile division of the city police. Most were victims of sudden infant death and a few were teenage suicides. None the less after seeing countless murder, car accident, and suicide deaths not to mention all the natural and overdose deaths, nothing leaves more of an impression than the death of a child.
So there is all the reasons why in a pretty non emotional straight forward way. But is any of these really a reason or just a list of facts? What can we do to prevent these killings? Are there signs we could look for? If we do think we see a sign would anyone believe us if we reported it? Lots of questions and unfortunately not a lot of good answers.
Some things you can do:
- learn the signs of depression, You can find a good list here.
- take threats by spouses seriously and report them.
- report suspected abuse of children even if you are not sure.
- report domestic arguments you hear or see don't be afraid to get involved.
- Look for signs of postpartum depression in new mothers, you can learn more here.
- If you or someone you know is in emotional distress and/or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7.