AUGUSTA, MAINE - As more is becoming known about the circumstances that led up to a husband shooting his wife and three children before killing himself, one reported detail is all too familiar to police, prosecutors and advocates for victims of domestic violence: threats of suicide preceded the murders.
Recent reports by the Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel noted a pattern connecting suicidal behaviors and the potential for homicide. Of the 21 cases the Panel reviewed for the most recent report, 14 of the perpetrators, or 66%, exhibited suicidal behavior prior to committing or attempting to commit homicide and seven of those killed themselves after committing or attempting homicide. These suicidal behaviors included giving large sums of money away, saying goodbyes, making amends, purchasing a handgun, threatening suicide and or/ previous threats or attempts to commit suicide.
The Department of Public Safety on Monday reported that Heather Smith, the wife of Joel Smith, had told a family friend the night of the shooting that Joel Smith had threatened suicide earlier in the week by pointing a gun at his head. There is no indication that any assistance was sought after that incident, according the Department.
"The news from Saco over the last twenty-four hours is absolutely devastating," said Attorney General Janet T. Mills. "My heart breaks for the people and the communities involved. As we learn more details about the four victims, I am sure our grief will only grow. This horrific incident must serve as a reminder to all of us that threats of violence and threats of suicide must be taken seriously. Telling your boyfriend or girlfriend, I can't live without you,' can quickly cross from the innocuous to the devastating. In the context of an abusive relationship, these utterances are veiled threats of violence, with a strong undercurrent of manipulation and control. Recognizing the signs of abuse - and acting upon them - is key to preventing future tragedies like this."
If you or someone you know needs help or would like to talk to an advocate, call your local law enforcement agency or the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence: 1-866-834-4357. It is free, it is confidential and it is available 24/7.