On Wednesday morning, February 6, Mayra Nunez shot her three young children and then shot herself. Two of the children were found dead, as was the mother. A two year-old girl survived a gunshot to the head and was rushed to the hospital for surgery, where she remains in critical condition. The mother killed her children and herself with the handgun the family kept in the house for protection.
Here is a news clip about the shooting. Word of warning: this is a disturbing story with some graphic details.
Needless to say, murder-suicide is horrible. The devastation it leaves behind for family, friends, and community is unfathomable. This particular murder-suicide is no different in that regard. But, it is atypical in one key way: the act was committed by a woman.
As I have written in other blog posts (click on the label 'Murder-Suicide' at the end of this post to read more), the perpetrators are almost always male. Murder-suicides typically stem from domestic violence when they are initiated by men. When murder-suicides are initiated by women, there are two common scenarios that tend to emerge:
Either, women will kill an abusive opposite-sex partner and then kill themselves. Or, what is much more common, women will kill their children and then kill themselves.
There can be numerous reasons why anyone will decide to murder someone else or to commit suicide. With women and murder-suicide involving their children, there are two main reasons that stand out among others:
1. Depression (sometimes post-partum depression) -- Women who are severely depressed will want to die, and they will irrationally assume no one will be able to care for their kids when they are gone. Or, they will think they will be doing their children a favor by removing them from such a painful, evil world. Hence, they kill their children and then themselves.
2. Psychosis (again, sometimes post-partum) -- Women who are psychotic and paranoid will think some outside force is telling them to kill their children. Maybe, their kids are evil or some evil will be acted out on the children if they are allowed to live. Psychotic women can also think God is telling them to kill their children so they will go to a better place. Whether to rid the world of evil or to hasten a trip to heaven, these women will kill their children and then themselves.
Yesterday was a terribly sad day for the Denver community, one in a string of sad days that none of us deserves. It can be difficult to come to terms with news of a mother killing her children, and we will never know this mother's true motivations. But I hope my explanation can help shed some light on what would otherwise be a completely incomprehensible event.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.