Magazine article Editor & Publisher

AP Probes Rise in Suicides Linked to Financial Crisis

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

AP Probes Rise in Suicides Linked to Financial Crisis

Article excerpt

An out-of-work money manager in California loses a fortune and wipes out his family in a murder-suicide. A 90-year-old Ohio widow shoots herself in the chest as authorities arrive to evict her from the modest house she called home for 38 years.

In Massachusetts, a housewife who had hidden her family's mounting financial crisis from her husband sends a note to the mortgage company warning: "By the time you foreclose on my house, I'll be dead."

Then Carlene Balderrama shot herself to death, leaving an insurance policy and a suicide note on a table.

Across the country, authorities are becoming concerned that the nation's financial woes could turn increasingly violent, and they are urging people to get help. In some places, mental-health hot lines are jammed, counseling services are in high demand and domestic-violence shelters are full.

"I've had a number of people say that this is the thing most reminiscent of 9/11 that's happened here since then," said the Rev. Canon Ann Malonee, vicar at Trinity Church in the heart of New York's financial district. "It's that sense of having the rug pulled out from under them."

With nowhere else to turn, many people are calling suicide-prevention hot lines. The Samaritans of New York have seen calls rise more than 16 percent in the past year, many of them money-related. The Switchboard of Miami has recorded more than 500 foreclosure-related calls this year.

"A lot of people are telling us they are losing everything. They're losing their homes, they're going into foreclosure, they've lost their jobs," said Virginia Cervasio, executive director of a suicide resource enter in southwest Florida's Lee County.

But tragedies keep mounting:

In Los Angeles last week, a former money manager fatally shot his wife, three sons and his mother-in-law before killing himself.

Karthik Rajaram, 45, left a suicide note saying he was in financial trouble and contemplated killing just himself. But he said he decided to kill his entire family because that was more honorable, police said.

Rajaram once worked for a major accounting firm and for Sony Pictures, and he had been part-owner of a financial holding company. But he had been out of work for several months, police said.

After the murder-suicide, police and mental-health officials in Los Angeles took the unusual step of urging people to seek help for themselves or loved ones if they feel overwhelmed by grim financial news. They said they were specifically afraid of the "copycat phenomenon."

"This is a perfect American family behind me that has absolutely been destroyed, apparently because of a man who just got stuck in a rabbit hole, if you will, of absolute despair," Deputy Police Chief Michel Moore said. "It is critical to step up and recognize we are in some pretty troubled times."

* In Tennessee, a woman fatally shot herself last week as sheriff's deputies went to evict her from her foreclosed home.

Pamela Ross, 57, and her husband were fighting foreclosure on their home when sheriff's deputies in Sevierville came to serve an eviction notice. They were across the street when they heard a gunshot and found Ross dead from a wound to the chest. The case was even more tragic because the couple had recently been granted an extra 10 days to appeal.

* In Akron, Ohio, the 90-year-old widow who shot herself on Oct. 1 is recovering. A congressman told Addie Polk's story on the House floor before lawmakers voted to approve a $700 billion financial rescue package. …

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