The people who commit such crimes are almost always men, Schlesinger says. “They honestly believe their family is better off dead than without them,” says Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control research group. Her group has done three studies on killings followed by suicide, but most did not involve the deaths of an entire family. In the first half of 2007, murder-suicides caused 554 deaths, including 45 children under 18. Firearms were used in nine out of 10 cases. Most murder-suicides, 78.5 percent, are caused by problems between intimate partners says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC report of 2005 data from 16 states found that financial problems were a factor in 8 percent of the 199 deaths studied.
The dismal economy has been blamed for some recent cases of financially stressed fathers killing themselves and their families, but the truth is not likely that simple. USA Today says financial problems can be a factor in what researchers call “familicide,” but the scholars suggest the crime is rare. “The economic downturn is not triggering a rash of this,” says Louis Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Hundreds of thousands have been laid off recently and more have lost money in the stock market, without killing their families. Since October, at least three men who lost jobs or money, two in California and one in Pennsylvania, killed themselves and their families.