Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Fourth Murder-Suicide for the Eugene Area

Today was an alarming day. 

Back on February 25, an elderly couple was found shot to death in their home in Cheshire, a rural town outside of Eugene, Oregon.  It was revealed today that the husband, Harry Hanus, age 74, shot and killed his wife, Barbara, before taking his own life.  They left no note, and the articles on the shooting only indicate surprise by those who knew them.

The reason this is so alarming is that this is the fourth murder-suicide in this area in only half a year. 

For an area that historically sees no more than half a dozen homicides a year, things are now getting out of control.  For these four cases alone, nine people have died, including the murder of three children.  Three of these murder-suicides were carried out with guns, one with a knife.

The other three cases:
Sept. 20, 2010: Richard Rauscher, depressed over a recent divorce, shot to death his two little girls, ages 7 & 9, in their Junction City home.  Neighbors knew he was distraught, as he would come over to their home to cry.

Dec. 22, 2010:  In an apparent psychotic break, Darwin Dale Stout, 49, stabbed to death his 13-year old son, Jared, before killing himself with the same knife, in their home in Harrisburg.  Stout's behavior had been highly erratic and paranoid in the previous week and a half.  During that time, Stout had voluntarily admitted himself to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation and been deemed not to be a threat to himself or others.   Sadly, they were mistaken.

Feb. 19, 2011:  In north Eugene, Valerie R. Rhodes & Christopher Schroeder, both 30, were found shot to death in their home.   The official cause of death has not yet been released, but initial reports were probably murder-suicide, and the Lane County Sherriff's Office has stated that, "We want to make sure that folks (neighbors) know that we don't have any reason to believe that this is anything other than something between these two folks.  So there's no suspect out there we're trying to find, there's nothing in play here, as tragic as this incident is, we believe it is contained just to this couple."

Some important Statistics:
Depression leads to a drastically higher chance of both suicide, homicide, or both.  From THIS study: "Twelve couples in cases of murder-suicide were compared to 24 couples in cases of homicide during the period 1978 to 1987 in Albuquerque, N.M. Data were obtained from police, the courts, hospital records, and interviews with friends and family of the deceased. The most striking findings were that perpetrators of murder-suicide were depressed (75%) and men (95%), while perpetrators of homicide were not depressed and one-half were women."
An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present (Wiebe, 2003).  Where there are more guns, there are more suicides and homicides.

Keeping a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide by a factor of 3 to 5 and increases the risk of suicide with a firearm by a factor of 17 (Kellerman, 1992).

More than 90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal.  In comparison, only 3 percent of attempts with drugs or cutting are fatal (Miller, 2004).

For the most part, there is no law that can stop this, proposed or existing, with the possible exception of strengthening background checks and NICS to temporarily include those, like Stout, who had been admitted for counseling. As far as I have been able to tell, the cases above that included gun use involved legal gun owners who pulled the trigger.

Rather, it takes personal responsibility on the part of friends and family, and the individual himself, to recognize the warning signs.  Sometimes those signs can be very hard to see, or easy to misread as not being serious.  Other times they are blatantly obvious, as with the Stout case. Sadly, even intervention doesn't always stop tragedy, but chances are far, far higher.

If you know someone who is depressed, has suffered a traumatic event such as a divorce or job loss, or has expressed thoughts of suicide, I urge you to convince them to seek counseling, remove weapons from their home, and have someone watch over them.  This is doubly true if children live in the home with them.  You may feel you are butting into their business by making suggestions and showing concern, but this is better than having your friend or loved one die, and it just may demonstrate to them that someone gives enough of a damn for them to live another day.  

UPDATE (3/3/11):  Another murder-suicide up in Hillsboro, OR, this week.  Father shot 6-yr old son before killing himself.

Statistical Sources:

Kellermann, Arthur L. et al., “Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership,” New England Journal of Medicine, 327(7) (1992): 467-472.

Miller, Matthew, David Hemenway, Deborah Azrael, "Firearms and Suicide in the Northeast," Journal of Trauma 57 (2004):626-632.

Rosenbaum, M.  The role of depression in couples involved in murder-suicide and homicide.  Am J Psychiatry. 1990 Aug;147(8):1036-9.

Wiebe, Douglas J. PhD. “Homicide and Suicide Risks Associated With Firearms in the Home: A National Case-Control Study.” Annals of Emergency Medicine 41 (2003): 771-82.


  1. I'm glad you acknowledged that there's not really a legislative solution to suicide (by firearm or otherwise) and I agree of course that friends or family intervening in some way if they know someone is depressed can save lives.

    One problem, however, is that in states with more restrictive gun laws, you can't just "remove their weapons from the home," especially if the weapon is a handgun--you'd be committing a felony to conceal, transport and/or possess the weapon yourself and face a prison sentence if caught.

    Just a thought.

  2. Guav, just to clarify, I didn't advocate for stealing the weapons from the home of a depressed person, but rather to convince them to remove them themselves or to let you do so with their permission.

  3. Well, I wouldn't really consider it stealing—more like borrowing without telling them :)

    But regardless, the issue I raised is still a problem even if they give you permission to remove the firearm. If you don't have a handgun permit, you can't possess it. Removing it from the house creates an entirely new set of issues, because you need to transport it, and possibly conceal it.

    As far as convincing them to remove the firearm themselves, remove it to where? Aside from the question of were do you put it that's secured, you run into the other problem—if they remove it, and know where it is, they still have access to the firearm, which is what you're trying to avoid in the first place.

    Any ideas?

  4. Baldr, I don’t think Guav was referring to stealing guns either, but in a state like CA where they have mandatory registration of handguns it would be illegal for one friend to posses another person’s handgun even with permission. They could both lose their right to own guns forever.

  5. I think those are good points. In states where it's legal, at least, a friend or family member can offer to take it out of the house of the depressed person, making it much harder for a spontaneous and deadly decision to be made.

    In states where that would not be legal, I'm not certain what the best option would be. Perhaps there are storage options and lockers that could be rented, at firing ranges for instance?

    If it's a very serious case, it would be preferable to sell the gun or pawn it than to have it in the home, if it weren't a special keepsake, or transfer to another legal gun owner if allowed by law.

  6. The fact of the matter is that existing gun laws—and especially the kinds of further restrictions you advocate—make it extremely difficult to next to impossible for someone to intervene in a high-suicide risk situation by removing a gun from the home of a potentially-suicidal person.

    This is one of those times where the policies you advocate have unintended consequences that run counter to your interests, and an example of gun control laws affecting well-intentioned law abiding citizens and not criminals.

    Anyway, this is off-topic, but I just saw this link and thought of you (just because you're from Oregon and stuff):

  7. Trouble is a deeply depressed person might not have the sense or initiative to do the right thing.

    Big difference between "hey friend, keep this for me for a while" and driving someplace, waiting in line to fill out paperwork.

    Pawn shop clerk: "Nice model 10. Why are you selling it?"

    Owner: "I've been depressed since my wife left me, and am worried I'll off myself if I accidentally catch Shawshenk Redemption or Old Yeller on cable."

    I hope that would happen, but I'm skeptical.

  8. Guav, that's an interesting article. I hope to track it down and get some specifics regarding homicides. Here in the Eugene area, homicides (particularly with firearms) is certainly higher compared to the last five years, at least, as I track those.

  9. With all due respect, your sentences below about the Stout case are factually incorrect (sentence 1) and are upsetting to the family (sentence 2) in that it appears you are insinuating blame without knowing the facts about how he gained access to his son. We would appreciate you taking them down. Thank you for your efforts to reduce violence in our area.

    "But, according to a family member, later he admitted thoughts of suicide."
    "Why he was allowed to be home alone with his son after all of this was never discussed in the articles."

  10. Anonymous, please extend my condolences to the family.

    The first sentence came from a news article, but I cannot find it now, so I have removed the statement. It would seem they were in error, then.

    I'm sorry the second sentence is distressing to the family. I have removed it. Others can learn from this, and an explanation may help.