Police said Theresa Cachuela, top, was shot to death by her husband, who later died by suicide. Maryalice “Molly” Cash, bottom left, and her mother, Cindy Domini, bottom right, were killed by Cash’s boyfriend, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.
Lucita Ani-Nihoa/GoFundMe; Friends of Molly/GoFundMe
At least a half dozen suspected murder-suicides — or familicides — occurred in the US in December.Perpetrators are typically middle-aged men; precipitating events are often separations or divorces.Experts have flagged easy firearms access and a lack of violence-interruption programs as causes.
From Hawaii to New York, Arizona to Massachusetts, some involving children, others involving spouses or intimate partners, news of suspected murder-suicides gripped Americans throughout December.
This holiday season, at least a half dozen such incidents have shocked and devastated communities across the country. Though murder-suicides are rare, the recent spate has prompted authorities and local officials to warn of a domestic violence crisis and plead for victims to seek help.
In New York, a police sergeant was believed to have fatally shot his wife and two young sons before turning his gun on himself, the Clarkstown Police Department announced on Saturday. In a wealthy Massachusetts enclave, police found the bodies of a couple and their 18-year-old daughter on Thursday — prosecutors described the scene as a “deadly incident of domestic violence.”
And in Hawaii, a 33-year-old Instagram influencer was fatally shot in front of her young daughter on December 22 — the suspect, her estranged husband, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound shortly after.
Christmas Eve appeared to be particularly deadly.
In Arizona, the widower of a well-known prosecutor fatally shot his girlfriend and her mother, then himself. In Texas, Corpus Christi police found the bodies of a 49-year-old man and his 15-year-old son killed in another suspected murder-suicide. That same day, the three children of a Southern California couple reported their parents missing — authorities found the pair several days later, dead inside their vehicle.
According to the National Institute of Justice, a murder-suicide occurs when one intimate partner — often male — kills the other partner and then takes their own life. When children are also killed in the act, the murder-suicide is referred to as familicide.
Murder-suicide perpetrators are typically middle-aged men with access to firearms, experts say
Due to the rarity of murder-suicides, the US does not keep an official database tracking their frequency.
Dr. Alexander Tsai, a board-certified staff psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told Business Insider that murder-suicides are difficult to study for that reason — the rate is fewer than one per 100,000 people annually.
Tsai said the perpetrators are typically men in their 40s or 50s, and the precipitating event is often a separation or divorce. Unlike other types of violent perpetrators, such as mass shooters, murder-suicides are often committed by people who are employed full-time, Tsai said.
They’re “not people in their basement, on Twitter, going down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories,” Tsai said.
The National Institute of Justice has identified four common characteristics in murder-suicides:
prior history of domestic violence,
access to firearms,
and a prior history of mental illness or substance abuse.
Experts have particularly emphasized the role of guns in the phenomenon of murder-suicides.
The National Institute of Justice said that out of 591 murder-suicides, 92% were committed with a gun, and states with less restrictive gun laws have up to eight times the rate of murder-suicides as states with more restrictive gun laws.
“An overwhelming amount of murder-suicides involve guns,” Tsai said. “When you have these acts that are committed out of impulsivity, there’s really no turning back with a firearm — whereas if you had a baseball bat … there is some turning back.”
Gary Slutkin, the former head of the World Health Organization’s Intervention Development Unit and the founder of Cure Violence Global, told BI that many forms of violence have been worsening in recent years, and will likely continue to worsen in 2024 and 2025.
In the US, particularly, communities lack systems to interrupt violent events beyond law-enforcement agencies, he said. Slutkin said part of solving the problem will involve outreach workers — not police.
“Moms and friends don’t want to call police on their family and friends. You need a different system… a violence-interrupter system, like firefighters, but they’re trained differently on how to cool down potential events.”