SUICIDES KILL MORE THAN HOMICIDES

(This Op-Ed by yours truly was published in Florida Today, Monday, May 14, 2018.)

Most folks do not realize that homicide detectives spend more than half their time on the job investigating suicides, accidental deaths and even unexplained natural deaths, not just murder cases. That’s because any of those could be a homicide in disguise.

Sometimes, it hits home. As a Miami-Dade County homicide supervisor in the 1970s, I was routinely reviewing a stack of reports when I came across a suicide case where a 65-year-old man shot himself in the head and left a note: “I don’t want to suffer the cancer.” His name was Joe Strauss. My stepfather’s brother, he was “Uncle” Joe to me.

On another occasion, I visited the morgue to consult with the medical examiner, a frequent occurrence. As I passed by the array of bodies wearing nothing but toe-tags, I noticed a small person lying with a bullet hole in her temple. I gasped. I knew this girl, my wife’s niece, age 11. Alone in the house, she found her dad’s pistol, lay on the bed and elected to die.

Nationally, suicides comprise more than double the number of homicides, 44,965 compared to 19,362 ins 2016, according to Centers for Disease Control/Prevention.              

Suicide cases are particularly heart wrenching. During my 30 years with Miami-Dade County Police, I knew 12 cops who killed themselves.  One female officer had just lost her job. She took her 4-year-old son with her to the beach at night and lay on the blanket. She took both their lives with a revolver. Another detective struggled with love of wife and love of job, until his wife left for good. He got drunk, wrote a note and shot himself. Motives vary, though advanced sickness and alcohol played a major role in a large number. After that, comes depression and mental illness.

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. There are other surprising statistics:

  • In most charts, the rates of suicide are 3.5 times higher among males, than females
  • Racially, Native Americans/Alaskans, rank highest, followed closely by whites. Blacks   show the lowest rates for suicide.
  • Regionally, Rocky Mountain and Midwest states show the highest rates, while California, Illinois and New York show the lowest.
  • Firearms account for over half of all suicides, followed by a myriad of other methods.
  • The percentage of adults having had suicide thoughts were highest among adults 18 to 25,(8.8 percent).
  • Roughly 18 percent of suicide victims are military veterans. That’s 22 per day.
  • School bullying (and cyber bullying) play a significant role in suicides among young people.
  • Having investigated hundreds of these cases, I saw that the common threads between cases were mental depression and other warning signs that were either ignored or dismissed by friends and relatives. It is important for parents and friends to pay close attention when suicide is ever mentioned, even in a joking fashion. Mental health professionals are available throughout the community for consultations. Or, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Other warning signs, according to mental health professionals, include:

  • Sudden increase in use of alcohol or drugs
  • Depression associated with unbearable pain
  • Talking of being trapped or a burden to others
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Verbalizing a wish to die.

In rare occasions, I’ve seen suicides that actually translated to an act of love.

At age 88, Sam was suffering through a long and fatal illness. Greta, his wife of 65 years had been his caretaker for years, only to watch him wither in pain. One moonlit night, she took Sam for drive onto the beach. There, as he sat in the back seat, she connected the hose from the tailpipe into the car window. She turned on the engine and crawled into Sam’s arms. They were found the next morning in an embrace.

Theirs was an act of love.

20 Responses to SUICIDES KILL MORE THAN HOMICIDES

  1. Eileen May 14, 2018 at 10:01 am #

    Thanks for the info, Marshall. Although my late husband committed suicide, I had no idea the statistics were higher than homicide. Alcohol definitely played a part in my husband’s decision, as well as other negative character traits and lifestyle choices. I’ll never forget the devastation I felt when a Brevard Deputy visited the clinic where I worked at the time to inform me of my husband’s suicide. What is even more devastating, however, is when a child deliberately takes his/her own life; I can’t begin to imagine how those grieving parents must feel.

  2. John Doe May 14, 2018 at 10:36 am #

    Fascinating but depressing op-ed….

    Vic, my best friend from age 6 until he ended his life with a gunshot to the head at age 38, was a troubled soul. It was August 1983; he had just lost his job; his wife had divorced him a year or two earlier; and he had suffered from depression for years. When he gave-up, he was back living in the home in which he grew-up and where I spent a good amount of my childhood and teen years. His mother, a first generation Italian-American, found her son dead the morning after he did the deed.

    It was the worst death I have had to digest in my 73 years. Vic and I were classmates at Catholic grade school and high school in Des Moines, Iowa and graduated from Notre Dame together in 1967. We were in the same scout troop and double-dated as teenagers.

    Vic had a son who was six when his father killed himself. Vic was a doting, non-custodial dad. When visiting my mother and a few friends in Des Moines, I had met the son two or three times before Vic’s death. Some years later when visiting Des Moines, I met the son who was visiting his grandmother’s home. As he got older he looked more and more like his father. In 2000 when I went to Des Moines for his grandmother’s funeral, the son was 23 and, by that time, was an absolute clone of his father. Also, by then, the son was old enough to realize how close I had been to his Dad and began taking an interest in knowing more about him. So, from that point on, I have had occasional contact, including the son’s visit to my home in 2015 accompanied by his daughter who just graduated from high school in Kansas where the son lives.

    I expect to see the son this summer when I make my annual sojourn to the Midwest to visit family and friends in Minneapolis and Des Moines (and to Isanti, MN to see Al Garber, a more recent friend whom I met through David Waksman).

    It is always a strange experience to see this 41 year old man whose appearance and personality are essentially identical to those of Vic and to visit Vic’s home where his younger brother, now 66, and family live. As it was/is, I was/am close to Vic’s entire family, including some of the many relatives – all first and second generation Italian-Americans from the sizeable Italian community in Des Moines.

  3. Charles Pierce May 14, 2018 at 10:39 am #

    If Doctor assisted suicide is not suicide then why is suicide a crime or statistic at all?

  4. Amy May 14, 2018 at 11:21 am #

    A subject close to my heart. I am sorry you had to see your niece like that and your Uncle, I am sorry you lost him. I am also sorry for their suffering, it is very real. My mom killed herself in 1999. It has had long lasting ramifications for our family and mental illness was the cause along with the fact that they treated her with Lithium , which is the worst thing you can give someone with a thyroid problem. Funny you should mention it, I recently had a very long day thinking about this stuff. It’s true that we have to talk about it. A lot of people don’t know how to talk about darkness or depression with their families, they are afraid of it. It’s just a part of life and it’s a part of a sometimes failing human brain which can be jumped back onto the right track with the right interventions, in a lot of cases.

  5. Betty Lou May 14, 2018 at 11:21 am #

    I have dealt with 5 suicides including my husband, lawyer, 2 of my students and the President of the company where I worked. Each story unique.

    In the case of severe illness I believe that people should have a right to a peaceful death, unfortunately, that is not an option leaving them no choice except a violent demise.

    This information is very important for people to understand. There are many suicides that could be prevented like our veterans that could be helped. The statistics for them are so high.

    Thank you.

    Betty Lou

  6. Bill Eades May 14, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

    Marshall,
    You and I had a good friend when he retired as a Lt. from Dade County & became a Police Chief in Ga. after retiring there his wife/solemate passed away he could not adjust one day his son came home finding him deceased gun shot to his head, he was probably one of the best supervisors I had the pleasure of working for RIP Don

  7. George S. May 14, 2018 at 1:33 pm #

    Read the column this morning. Interesting and educational, yet sad. Having worked in oncology as part of my medical career, I know the hardship, sadness, pain families go through. Being raised Lutheran, I do not believe in taking your own life, but psychologically, I can understand the thoughts behind the consideration……for cancer patients anyway…..kids who kill themselves because they feel they dislike school or have too much homework….they need counseling…..having served in the U.S. Army it saddens me to hear of fellow vets who give up. Great article. Sad.

  8. Charles Pierce May 14, 2018 at 1:48 pm #

    Thank you for your answer. I understand that it is not a crime, but have difficulty dealing with the lefts insistence in making doctor assisted suicide OK but if you use a gun it is not OK. It all deals with the practice of Eugenics.

  9. Norman Kassoff May 14, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

    Marshall,

    I have often thought of why do people take their lives when I handled a case of a young man going to the University of Miami, who in September of 1956 while working at the Hass Miami Serpentarium as a night caretaker, rolled up the sleeve of his shirt, and put his arm into a cage containing several King Cobra’s . He was found dead the next morning with a hand written note which said that life was not worth living with out his girl friend.

    Investigation showed that his girl friend had told him a few days earlier that she wanted to date other boys and while she really liked him, she felt that they should both date other people to see if their feeling’s would stand the test of time.

    That one case really got me interested in suicide , so much so that I began to have very long talks with the then Chief Medical Examiner , Dr. Joe Davis on the subject.

    He told me that we know so little of the brain and how it acts or reacts, and that it’s because we are all wired so differently,” that one size does not fit all.” All we need do is to look around and see the amazing differences we have in our daily lives even with members of our own family to see that we all don’t react the same way to issues or problems the same way. He suggested that the many, many secrets of the brain may never all be discovered and that’s why suicide may be an act that those “wired ” another way may not come to understand.

  10. W. Burnbaum May 14, 2018 at 8:38 pm #

    Maybe anti-gun Democrats should read more and politicize less. BB

    • Paul Vincent Zecchino May 20, 2018 at 8:12 pm #

      Bravo! The anti-gun democrats’ rhetoric speaks to their utter lack of knowledge on the subject of firearms and the many laws which regulate them.

  11. Frank M. May 15, 2018 at 6:30 am #

    Marshall, fascinating article and as usual, well researched.

    Dr. Joe Davis was one of the most knowledgeable men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and working with. His lectures and conversations were so interesting and provocative that you could spend hours conversing with him, even in the confines of the ME office, while he did autopsies. My first week in homicide I was told to report to the ME office and observe. Whew, what an experience, but it did harden me to the scenes that I was about to witness. Some of the hardest cases I handled were suicides and the carnage that some of them created was beyond description. These were tortured individuals who paid the ultimate price.

    Having worked with some of the detectives who eventually committed suicide it was not hard to imagine what pushed them over the edge. Great topic, but very sad and the suffering of the survivors was very difficult.to cope with.

  12. Shirley w. May 16, 2018 at 9:24 am #

    Marshall, thanks for a very informative and important article. I worked for the Crisis Center years ago and learned another important fact–suicide is contagious.

    I was able to dissuade a father from committing suicide when I told him that he could be setting a precedent for his two young sons. They might think that it’s okay since that’s how their father handled tough times. Of course, I had other good arguments, too.

    We also see the contagion in groups such as teenagers.

    The suicide victim often, but not always, gives off clues which family and friends recall after the fact. Suicide leaves the survivors brokenhearted, guilt-ridden and angry.

    We used to tell our clients that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
    When the person can really grasp that fact, they are able to move on to dealing with that temporary problem.

  13. Ima May 16, 2018 at 12:35 pm #

    As a PhD; credentialed Hypnotherapist; A Master Artist of fifty years Instructing young, creative ones and an adjunct Faculty Professor(retired) it is my Intimate knowledge of the emotional burden of creative people; we speak a different language, that of design, color and utmost, passion( always in great emotional overdrive. A dear friend, a talented, Impressionist Painter, Intelligent to a fault; however, she was diagnosed Bi-Polar; thus had; by the Gene Codes or Ancestral Bondage, different rewiring in her brain; Bi-Polar configurations. Needing the use of Psychoanalyst to control the one, deadly symptom of Bi-Polarity, Depression. Thus the criminal element; that of a drug Changing one’s brain, mentality and emotionally with chemicals; lets loose the accumulates within the depressed mind; relaxes the survival mode.One could say tranquilizing could be accused as “Assisted Suicide.” Hypnotherapy better. Does no harm.

  14. Jim Scott May 16, 2018 at 9:01 pm #

    Marshall, I also worked many suicides while in Homicide. One I can’t get over was a mother who killed herself by driving into a South Miami canal, with her toddler straped in a child car seat. Ok, do yourself, but why take an innocent child? I suppose that it reflects the irrationality of the act.

  15. Chuck May 17, 2018 at 2:37 pm #

    Netflix this Friday another episode that shouldn’t air “13 reasons why”
    First episode shows bullied girl, way out …suicide… Google says after that show aired they had a 26% raise in the question “How do I commit suicide?”

  16. freewoman May 17, 2018 at 10:13 pm #

    Having suffered myself, many years ago from depression, can only thank God that I did not seek help from Shirley w.s “Crisis Center” who advised “We used to tell our clients that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. When the person can really grasp that fact, they are able to move on to dealing with that temporary problem.” What absolute bull-dust. What an incredible sluffing off of on paying real attention to the suffer.

    We in the USA are faced with a mental health crisis. Why the opioid crisis? Why are one in six Americans taking anti-depressant drugs?

    What are we going to do about it???????????????????

  17. Charlie Greene May 18, 2018 at 8:35 am #

    Saw this in today’s paper.I was astounded by the figures.
    I guess i assumed that because I’ve never had those thoughts very few others did.

  18. Helen Frigo May 19, 2018 at 5:26 pm #

    Dispite all we have American’s ranked 18th in the world in happiest. Norway is first.
    It is going to get worst as young American’s realize they are in no position education
    wise to compete with what is headed their way.The Chinese are going to eat their lunch.
    Also the right wing hates government regulations,but they want to regulate what we do to ourselves. We should have the right to end our lives .

  19. Edward Hensley May 23, 2018 at 10:44 pm #

    Well researched article Marshall. Prior to
    Reading it I would have guessed U.S. suicides
    and murders about equal in numbers. How
    sad the true stats are. Sader still, the lack of
    interest in the general population to discuss
    Suicide & Mental Illness. Sharing on Facebook.&

Leave a Reply