No one heard the shots that 45-year-old Karthik Rajaram fired into his mother-in-law, his wife, and their three sons, ages 19, 12, and 7, or the final shot that ended Rajaram's life, but the pistol used to commit these murders, one purchased by Rajaram on 9/16/08, was still in his hand when LAPD officers found the bodies of the five dead family members. Rajaram, an emotionally trouble MBA who had made and recently lost millions of dollars in the stock market, had reached the end of his rope with no knot at the end. Before he wiped out his entire family, however, he left two "suicide notes." One note was for the police (in which he alone took responsible for the murders) and one was left for his remaining family members wherein he described being so overwhelmed with financial challenges that he felt he had but one of two choices: kill himself or kill all of his family members, then himself. His decision made, he sought out his next door neighbor, someone he had previously little contact with, to caution her to keep the windows of her residence, at least those facing Rajaram's suburban home, closed because of the threat of burglars. In reality, Rajaram probably did this so his neighbor wouldn't hear the many gun shots he was about to fire. His planned worked. His neighbor heard nothing and the deaths went undiscovered for days. The financial bloodbath resulting from the partial collapse of our financial industries has begun to spill over into our homes. Now we are not only losing dollars and cents, but spouses and children as well.
While uxoricide (murder of one's wife) and filicide (murder of your own children) is, unfortunately, not a new solution to "resolve" someone's personal financial crisis, it is one that appears to be chosen more and more across the world. Many remember Neil Entwistle who, in January 2006 murdered his wife and infant daughter in Hopkinton, MA after experiencing significant financial setbacks. It is the meltdown of the housing market, the stock market, and the associated world-wide financial losses that have seen more and more people choose death, both for their family and self, rather than face the overwhelming financial losses they have recently encountered. To such an individual, these losses and setbacks appear to have no solution, none, that is, other than death. While stories of suicide related to financial losses are part of our history (12/10/1904, "Pittsburg, PA man 'whose mind was unbalanced by the loss of $13,500 in the stock market' shoots self"), and the stories of suicides after the financial crash of 1929, we are now witnessing a new chapter in this old book of "no one to turn to, nowhere to hide."
Severe debt or financial loss can quickly lead to depression and this downward spiraling path can quickly lead to despondency and even suicide. The stock market is down almost 5,000 points, billions of dollars have been lost, retirement accounts have all but been decimated, and hundreds of thousands of homeowners are being forced into foreclosure. Almost 9 million people are counted among the ranks of the unemployed in the US and many thousands more can only count on their current pay check with no assurance that another one will follow. In these emotionally bleak times many people believe they, and their family, have no hope for tomorrow and some make the fatal decision to permanently cut their losses by ending their lives. But if you believe that "the sun will come out tomorrow," why don't people give life, and the markets, a chance to come back?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov), more than 32,000 people kill themselves each year (88 per day), with men four times more likely than women to die this way. A little reported statistic, though, is that almost 400,000 people are treated in ERs every year for self-inflicted injuries, many that are unsuccessful suicide attempts. One recent such attempt was a Newark, NJ man who felt so hounded by late payment notices he had received that in protest he doused himself with gas and set himself afire in an apparent attempt at self-immolation. Although suicide is seen more often in young people and those over 65, depression can strike anyone, especially in these overwhelming financial times.
When the times are good, life is easy; but when the times get bad, only the strong survive.
Suicide is the most significant statement one can make about the quality of his or her life. When life spins out of control and your bills exceed your ability to pay, you are faced with some crucial life style choices. For some, the choice is life or death. As an FBI crisis (hostage) negotiator, I dealt with many potentially suicidal people. While some will talk about suicide, a small but significant number of people will see suicide as an acceptable means of conflict resolution, a means to an end; a final end.
Know of the Warning Signs of Suicide
In times such as this we all need to be our brothers (and our sisters) keeper. There are usually signs of suicidal ideation/thought before someone makes an attempt at self-inflicted death. These warning signs could include the following:
1. Significant financial losses, setbacks, loss of job, etc.
2. Severe depression (loss of interest in life, trouble sleeping and eating, loss of desire for personal intimacy)
3. A history of prior suicidal ideation or suicide attempts (Between 20% to 50% of suicidal individuals have such a history), to include talking about life after they are gone
4. Statements concerning hopelessness and helplessness
5. Getting your life in order, to include a will
6. Discussions of who should get what within your family
7. Telling people goodbye
8. A loss of interest in things that were previously of great personal interest
9. Withdrawal from family and friends
10. Expressions of guilt, shame and/or failure
11. Neglecting personal appearance and/or a drastic change in appearance
12. A significant change in personality
13. Alcohol and drug abuse
14. The inability to concentrate; reckless or irrational behavior
15. A sudden change from depression to being happy or calm (the decision has been made to commit suicide and the person now feels less pressure)
What Can You Do to Help?
While some individuals may not exhibit these warning signs, or may show other signs related to severe depression, should you see any of the above or have reason to be concerned about another person, this is a time for personal intervention. Asking how a person is or, in the extreme, asking if a person is considering hurting or even killing themselves will not plant the idea in the head of another. In fact, it will likely show them that you are truly concerned. To see these and other warning signs and not speak out is the true error. There are a number of community agencies and other professionals that can help get someone through these uncharted and danger filled emotional waters. I know some who have seen but disregarded these warning signs, to include me. In more than one case a suicide followed and that person has spent the rest of their life wondering if they could have saved a life by simply talking to their friend, associate, or family member. If you have the chance, take the time to talk. You may just save a life.
Clint Van Zandt