Scholars link firearms, mental health and job security as factors in murder-suicide
The murder-suicide of the Billotti-Wood family is leaving Frederick County residents with more questions than answers as to why Christopher Alan Wood would kill his wife, children and himself.
Details from the murders are starting to emerge after the Frederick County Sheriff's Office held a press conference Tuesday, but much is still unknown about Wood's motives.
Katherine van Wormer, a professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa, and Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, have been following news of the case, and spoke to The Gazette about what could drive a husband to murder his family and commit suicide.
From their professional work and research, van Wormer and Webster pointed to employment, mental health, possession of firearms, and a deterioration of relationships as risk factors for domestic homicide.
van Wormer, co-author of "Death by Domestic Violence: Preventing the Murders and Murder-Suicides," said the murder of Francie Billotti-Wood and her three children doesn't seem to fit the domestic violence pattern.
Billotti-Wood was active in Middletown and had moved closer to her family, van Wormer noted. In most domestic violence situations, the abuser will try to isolate his or her partner from family and friends.
But van Wormer noted Wood's stressful work situation as an employee for CSX Railroad, and suspected deep depression played into the family's murder. "Like a lot of men, they think they're failures if they're not doing well at work," van Wormer said.
According to Webster, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, domestic violence can't be ruled out.
In a study conducted at the university's Center for Gun Policy and Research regarding risk factors in domestic murders, 30 percent of murder cases in the 12 cities in the study had no evidence of prior abuse, Webster said.
"It's not uncommon for there to be abuse and be unreported," he noted.
Webster also added that he found male unemployment was the biggest predictor of domestic gun violence in his research of homicide trends in Maryland from the 1970s to 1990s.
"Even though [Wood] had a job, he might not have felt secure in it," Webster said. The same goes for his marriage. Although Wood and his wife were married, he might have felt insecure and unable to maintain the relationship in his ideal way, Webster added.
In many domestic murder cases, Webster noted, the man has an inability to see his family as separate from himself.
"I think it ties into a sense of failure … and depression," van Wormer noted. Killing not only himself, but also his family is a sign of ownership, she noted, and an idea "that they're all in it together."
E-mail Katherine Mullen at email@example.com.
On the Web
American Roulette: Murder-Suicide in the United States