A Four-Part Article on Homicide Loss

December 30, 2017
photo by Josh Willink

Part I — The challenges faced by homicide loss families

I am a co-victim of homicide, a murder survivor. Some refer to me as the mother of the boy who was killed. At times, it feels as if I don’t even have a name, such is the stigma surrounding homicide. Whatever the term, the fact is that my wonderful, funny, bright, handsome 23-year-old son was murdered by someone he knew and trusted.

It’s exactly three years today since Alex was killed between the hours of 5 am and 6:45 am. We will never know exactly when he died and I suppose it doesn’t much matter because it’s the manner of his death and the fact that he is gone that hurts beyond anything I’ve ever known or could have imagined. In this time, I’ve also learned that it’s a very lonely and frightening place to be because the chasm between where I am in my grief journey and where the majority of people stand is too wide to bridge. Friends and kind strangers simply fail to comprehend the extent of the devastation left behind after a child is murdered.

The myriad of legal, financial, physical and psychological problems homicide parents face for years afterward make this a very misunderstood form of grief.

It’s not surprising that people can’t conceive of what I and others like me have gone through following the killing of our child or loved one at the hands of another. Why should they be able to? Let’s face it, nothing prepares any of us for this sudden harrowing loss, this obscene affront to decency, this wanton act of cruelty.

I had no skill set to help me when my son was killed, any more than my friends had experience of how to support me.

photo by Milada Vigerova

Most people are frightened by the violence of homicide and are utterly lost as to how to deal with the emotional trauma the victim’s family endures. It’s therefore understandable that only those who find themselves in the same devastating situation can relate to the horrors of my experience and I to theirs.

So, I have decided to do something about it, in a small way, in the only way I know how. To put pen to paper, to type out my thoughts, to open a small window to our world.

In this four-part article, I attempt to convey the reality of homicide-loss and the problems and vulnerability experienced by the families of victims.

Firstly, in Breaking the Silence (below) I seek to explain the emotional upheaval of homicide loss. The second article, Murder as Entertainment and the Psychology of Fear, looks at why society seems to struggle in helping co-victims and the effect this has on the families affected by the loss. In the third piece Crisis, Trauma and the Justice System I cover the main difficulties faced by survivors during the legal process and the financial burden faced by families, and how best to meet their needs. In the final article, Emotional Support in the Initial Stages and Beyond I address the unique psychological challenges faced by survivors of homicide.

Read together, the four articles give an overview of the impact of losing a child or loved one to homicide and the argument for inclusive informed support. My hope is that in allowing for greater understanding our communities will be kinder and more compassionate places for us all.

Breaking the Silence – the homicide co-victim

So, let’s look at some basic facts.

Data on exact numbers in each country vary from year to year, so for ease of statistical understanding I have taken the USA, and England and Wales as examples of western countries.

On average, each year, there are 15,000 homicides in the USA, which includes both criminal homicide (intentional killing or manslaughter) and vehicular homicide (e.g., homicide through drunk driving). In the England and Wales, it’s about 900 per year. These numbers represent the children and adults who lost their lives at the hands of another. In most cases, the victim was killed by someone they knew.

photo by Jeremy Wong

Each homicide leaves behind, on average, 5 to 10 close relatives, who are categorized as ‘survivors of homicide’, ‘co-survivors’ or ‘co-victims’. These numbers do not include extended family, friends, neighbours, or co-workers.

Stop to think about that.

Just the numbers are mind-boggling.

Chances are that in your lifetime you will meet or know of someone whose child or relative was a victim of a homicide.

And if this happens, will you approach them? Will you know how to support them? Years after the event, will you comprehend the enormity of their trauma and reach out to them? Certainly, in my case, I would have answered ‘no’ to all these questions — that is until I learned the hard way.

Co-victims’ life post-loss is harsh. Even after controlling for demographic and gender variables, the statistics point to a significantly higher risk of PTSD and depression as well as a deterioration in physical health. Additionally, alcohol and drug dependence can become a problem. Financial difficulties following the loss of income or legal costs are commonplace. Co-victims are often diagnosed with mental health issues following the homicide. Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon.

The reality is that survivors of homicide are victims of violence, in the same way as other victims of crime are victims of violence. The term ‘survivor’ I find unsettling because it somehow insinuates that we have survived and are doing ok. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are not ok. We are hanging on by the skin of our teeth. We are just about coping with every day if that. The psychological trauma lasts a lifetime and so does the grief.

And there’s the crunch.

We not only mourn our children but simultaneously are also forced to deal with the violence of the killing and the suffering inflicted upon them at the time of their death. And then there’s the legal aftermath that can last for years.

Is it, therefore, any surprise that co-victims commonly describe themselves as ‘going crazy’? Feelings of helplessness, rage, injustice, and devastation throw their world into such turmoil that they can barely function. Psychologists use terms such as ‘complex’ and ‘traumatic’ to describe this type of grief.

So please help me to break the silence. To further explain what families face following a homicide and how to support them, Part II — Murder as Entertainment and the Psychology of Fear, Part IIICrisis, Trauma and the Justice System and Part IV — Emotional Support in the Initial Stages and Beyond of this series will be published on Saturdays in the forthcoming three weeks.

 




  • Katja

    Katja Faber is the mother of three amazing children. Following her 23-year-old son's murder, she used her legal training to work closely with private lawyers and the State Prosecutor in her fight for justice for her dead son. She hopes to inspire others in seeking justice for their loved ones and through her writing break the taboo of homicide loss. She runs her own farm, a magical place where she has recently started to host retreats for those in need of support and healing. You can find her on www.katjafaber.com and https://www.instagram.com/hacienda.la.bonita/

    11 Comments

    • Gail

      December 30, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Our daughter was killed along with 4 other bicyclists by a drugged crazy man. He also injured 4 others. This was almost 20 months ago. We are still waiting on car insurance, probate, and court. My mind is still in a tizzy!

      1. Katja

        Katja Faber

        January 3, 2018 at 12:49 am

        Dear Gail, I am so sorry about your terrible loss and your daughter being a victim of homicide. It is an extremely hard and complex grief journey. Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story. I send you and your family strength and my deepest condolences.

    • Jan

      January 8, 2018 at 7:01 am

      I look forward to reading your series. Our daughter Lindsay was killed by her jealous ex boyfriend on Mar 21, 2012. Not a day goes by that I don’t think multiple times of her…our youngest child and only daughter. She was just 22 and just finished college. What would she be doing now….would she be married, have children, etc. This grief journey is so hard sometimes. We have found keeping her memory alive by telling her story to college students, developing scholarships in her memory and helping to build a memorial park in our community to memorialize murdered children has all helped. I look forward to your articles and your view on what helps in this journey. Thank you again!

      1. Katja

        katja faber

        January 8, 2018 at 12:01 pm

        It means so much that my words resonated with you. My deepest condolences for the loss of your daughter who had her whole life still ahead of her. I wish to express my sincerest admiration for the way in which you honour her memory. Thank you for leaving a comment.

    • Murder As Entertainment And The Psychology of Fear – Still Standing

      January 8, 2018 at 12:30 pm

      […] For the first article of the series on Homicide Loss, please click here. […]

    • Laurie croft Doyon

      January 11, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      My son Jordan croft was murdered May15 2016 along with four of his best friends ..this story made national news…as I was reading what happened to your precious son I was taken aback because my son was 22 also…the five that were murdered ranging ages 19-22. Jordan was the oldest… my son was my everything we have weathered many storms together we were best friends we talked about everything and anything everyday I saw him he still lived with me we were so close I still can’t comprehend the fact that he is not coming back I’m afraid if I let my mind go there I will lose it completely they were murdered by a supposed to be friend who was the Devil in Disguise he shot them all in the head tortured and killed three dogs by bashing their heads in tying them up and setting them on fire while they were alive if you want to read this story as we are going to try soon please Google Jeffrey peacock Colquitt County house fire you will see and hear this demon from hell lie to the nine-one-one operator I’m so glad to see that you were doing this I feel like I’m losing it I look forward to reading the rest of your story and my heart breaks for you sweet mama for the loss of your precious son

      1. Katja

        Katja Faber

        January 12, 2018 at 4:48 am

        Such senseless violence and cruelty, I am so sorry — I don’t think any of us ever really comes to terms with that. But in fighting for justice, in our search for truth, we give our children a voice, we become their champion in standing up to evil, and in so doing we live out our love for them. We protect them in death as we did in life because we carry them within us. My heart goes out to you and the other loss families in this horrific tragedy. Please accept my deepest condolences for the loss of your beautiful son. I wish you and all the other co-victims strength for what lies ahead.

    • Part III – Crisis, Trauma and the Justice System – Still Standing

      January 13, 2018 at 11:40 am

      […] Part 1. […]

    • Betty Hansen

      January 17, 2018 at 6:15 pm

      I am so sorry for the loss of you son..I was introduced to your article in a group on Facebook about murder siblings..my sister life was taking Dec 2015 by a man for no reason and to this date no charges has been filled because of the lack of evidence.And as her sister I still have no answer as to why..what happened..and who..I am learning to handle it a different way and found out I wasn’t alone because I thought no one will ever know how this feels but like you wrote there a millions who do and I do believe one day justice will be found for my sister Grace the Springfield MO news paper and Kspr news have helped to keep the story of her death so justice can come and I thank them for that with all my heart..I learn that even tho she is gone she lives in my heart and memory and when I talk of her and tell the stories she is alive all around me..thank you for yours words and understanding of our feelings ..prayed and healing love to you and your family

      1. Katja

        Katja Faber

        January 19, 2018 at 12:42 am

        Dear Betty, Your words are intimate, tender and fierce, and the love for your sister Grace shines through. May justice be done. No one should ever have to go through what you have suffered. I know only too well how hard it is to rebuild one’s life after such devastating loss. My love and deepest condolences to you and your family.

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