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Why Does a Parent Murder a Spouse and Beloved Children?

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Last week, I published an article about a tragic murder-suicide that happened in West Palm Beach, Florida. A 48 year old woman, Jennifer Berman, murdered her 2 teenage children and herself in what appeared to be a deliberate murder-suicide. What could possibly have led a young woman to end her life and that of her 2 innocent children so abruptly? And was this just an isolated incident of some crazy woman?

The answer to this question is a sad commentary about life in the 21st century. In the not too distant past, there were occasional tragic incidents like this one but either they were quite rare - or - the news did not travel so quickly. Only a few short decades ago, we did not have the internet and broadband TV to broadcast the news so quickly and so completely. Also, in the past the general public tended to be able to turn a blind eye to this type of incident, declaring that the perpetrator, the one who murdered the others, was insane. Most of us believed that we, as upstanding citizens, would never be able to commit such a heinous crime. We believed that it was only someone from a horrendous childhood upbringing and severe mental instability who could be driven to such a desperate ending.

What we have been discovering in recent years is that this rage and depression and sense of desperation has spread to all segments of the population. These types of incidents are not only happening because a psychotic family member gained access to a deadly weapon. It is not only happening in low economic, socially deprived families and neighborhoods. We have now have examples of highly upstanding citizens suddenly turning on their closest family members and doing the unthinkable - murdering their spouse and their innocent children.

This week alone, there were 3 major incidents that have shocked the nation - one spousal murder and two suicide murders including children.

One incident occurred in West Palm Beach, Florida. A mother killed her teenage son and daughter. This triggered me to write an article (Healing from an abusive relationship with a control freak co-parent) and radio interview of my colleague and friend, Dr. Debra Wingfield, who has written a powerful book that explains the type of coercive and controlling parenting and co-parenting that might have helped to create and exacerbate the relationship problems And she offers sound advice about what can and needs to be done about it.

A second incident occurred in Dallas, Texas, January 17th, where a man killed his estranged wife as their pending divorce was nearing completion.

“A divorce was pending for a mother of five when her estranged husband fatally shot her outside a McKinney day care Thursday and then turned the gun on himself a few miles away. Melissa Williams had just picked up her two youngest, ages 1 and 4, from the Discovery Learning Center at 1815 W. White Ave. She and the children were in her Ford Fusion in the center’s parking lot about 5:45 p.m. Witnesses told police they heard Cedric McFail arguing with her before the shots rang out. Police arrived moments later and found Williams dead, one day before her 36th birthday.”

A third incident occurred in Utah on January 18th when a Utah police officer, upstanding citizen, shot his wife and 2 young children before committing suicide.

"A Utah police officer made a horrific decision this week in choosing to shoot and kill his wife, his two young children, his mother-in-law, and then finally commit suicide by turning the blood-stained gun on himself. State authorities have almost no clues as to why the 34-year-old defender of the law, who appeared health and in mentally stable condition prior to the fatal incident, has committed such a tragic crime. Web Pro News tells what has been investigated so far in the murder-suicide this Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. The Utah police officer has been identified has 34-year-old Joshua Boren of the Lindon Police Department. He has been confirmed to have used a gun to shot and slay his wife, both of his children, and a relative. The killer then fatally shot himself. Officers were not aware of the sad deaths until Boren failed to appear for his night shift this week at the local department."

A 4th incident occurred in West Palm Beach in late October, 2013. A mother, Pam Brooks, repeatedly stabbed and killed her daughter, Alex Brooks, and herself.

In 2 of these incidents, the one who committed the murder completed the act by turning the weapon on him or her self. Total tragedies.

Could these have been prevented? What steps can law enforcement, mental health institutions, friends, relatives and spouses take to remedy these difficult situations before they get out of hand? What can children do to recognize and reach out when the family situation is becoming dangerous? What can you and I do to help our friends and relatives when we know something is seriously wrong?

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