What's Behind the Epidemic of Family-Killings?
Could it Be Anti-Depressants?
By Martha Rosenberg, AlterNet
Posted on May 1, 2009, Printed on May 6, 2009
The late comedian Richard Pryor used to riff about a fictitious interview with a mass
murderer. "But why did you kill [gulp] everyone in the house?" asks the reporter.
"They was home." Today it wouldn't be funny.
The occasional Susan Smith or Andrea Yates who kills her kids has given way to the
weekly appearance of a child, sibling, parent, grandparent, spouse and all-of-the-above killer.
Last week in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, D'Andre Howard is accused of
killing his girlfriend's sister, father and grandfather and leaving her mother in critical
The same day in Middletown, Md., Christopher Alan Wood killed his wife and three
children. A few days later in Towson, Md., William Parente killed his wife and two
Earlier this month, Kerby Revelus killed two of his sisters in Milton, Mass., -- decapitating
his younger sister in front of her birthday cake while police watched in horror.
In Orting, Wash., James Harrison killed his five children.
And that's just this month.
Last month, Devan Kalathat killed his two children and three other relatives in Santa Clara,
Calif., and left his wife in critical condition, where she clings to life.
And Michael McLendon slaughtered his mother and grandparents in southeast Alabama,
along with many others.
Of course the press is quick to blame the monthly and even weekly family killings on
economic stresses and lack of jobs.
Psychologists say a bad economy can create a family annihilator like Bob Dylan's Hollis
Brown, who "looked for work and money … and walked a rugged mile" and whose
"children are so hungry that they don't know how to smile," until he kills his wife and five
children in a mercy massacre.
And that's before you get to the added threat of losing your wife and kids, which produces
a feeling of loss of control in the killer-to-be, say psychologists.
Some have even blamed Binghamton, N.Y., killer Jiverly Voong's spree on his poor
English, and Revelus' spree on his lack of job skills after prison.
But of course the elephant in the room is: When people lost their jobs or wives in the past,
they didn't kill their entire families in a burst -- make that gun burst -- of irrational rage.
Not every week.
No, behind the deeds of Howard, Wood, Parente, Revelus, Harrison, Kalathat,
McLendon, et al. -- who are always called "depressed" and "bipolar" -- are probably
some health care professionals thinking, "I shouldn't have prescribed that psychoactive
med," and hoping the press doesn't come around.
Especially as California psychiatrist Christian Hageseth III goes to jail for irresponsibly
prescribing Prozac to John McKay, who killed himself.
Certainly Middletown's Wood was prescribed the violence-linked Cymbalta and Paxil,
along with two other psychiatric drugs before his deeds. His suicide notes even confirm he
felt he was getting worse, not better, on the medication, say police.
Who can forget that Andrea Yates was on a double dose of Effexor when she drowned
her five children in 2001?
But Mickey Mouse gun laws help, too, and there might well be private or licensed gun
sellers thinking, "I shouldn't have sold that squirrelly dude that weapon," after the recent
After all, Virginia Tech's Seung-Hui Cho, Voong and Pittsburgh's Richard Poplawski
passed their background checks with flying colors and were legal gun owners by existing
guns laws. Police killer Poplawski even had a conceal-and-carry permit.
And last year's Northern Illinois University shooter, Stephen Phillip Kazmierczak, waltzed
into a Champaign, Ill., gun store and bought two of his weapons, despite having been in a
mental institution for a year and a receiving psychological discharge from the Army.
Who do gun laws reject?
No, behind the spate of family homicides is not just the economy, job stress and failing
marriages, but a government that approved a cohort of psychoactive drugs with proven
homicidal and suicidal side effects. Blockbuster antidepressants and anti-psychotics that
are kept on the market despite the blood baths they can cause so drug companies can get
their patent's worth.
And it's a government that allows unlimited weapon arsenals -- including military and
assault-style weapons -- in the hands of everyone, including the unbalanced on
"depression" drugs, only to act surprised when another entire family -- everyone who was
home -- is killed.
Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist who frequently writes about the
impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. A former
medical copywriter, her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco
Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as well as on the BBC and in
the original National Lampoon.
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