Murder-Suicide

Murder-suicides are very rare and yet tend to receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage. Language and framing of news stories featuring murder-suicides can be extremely challenging for reporters for a number of reasons. In this section you will find advice for reporting murder-suicides as well as the accepted definition. This section will be updated as more becomes known about the reporting implications of murder-suicides.

Advice for reporting on murder-suicides

Avoid Speculation

Avoid speculating about the mental state of the perpetrator as this may lead to an implication that there is a link between mental ill health and violence. Accurate reporting is important in order to help reduce stigma.

Language Matters.

Be cautious about describing murder-suicide as solely tragic, as murder-suicides are serious and violent crimes, frequently featuring domestic violence themes.

Avoid dramatising re-enactments

When reporting on the actions of the perpetrator leading up to or during the incident, be extremely careful not to sensationalise or dramatise events. There is a risk of triggering copycat behaviour by other vulnerable individuals.

Tread carefully with vulnerable contributors

Think carefully before approaching potentially traumatised witnesses, victims, or others affected by murder-suicide. While some people may be visibly emotional, others may not be. Please do not assume this means they are in a position to be interviewed. If a witness or victim volunteers to be interviewed, double-check that they understand that what they say will be broadcast or printed.

Visually identifying the scene

Question if it really is necessary to report from the scene of a murder-suicide. For example, is it essential to have footage of the street or area where a familial murder-suicide occurred when relatives and neighbours may be in shock and distressed.

Avoid causing panic.

Be extremely careful when reporting live on an alleged murder-suicide not to fuel panic. Publicising premature estimates of the number of people killed or injured may cause undue stress to families and communities.

In the absence of official sources.

Exercise extra caution if reporting on rapidly unfolding events in order to guard against misrepresentation or exaggeration of a situation. Make it clear that witness and survivor statements are the perspective of the individuals and not a conclusive account of events.

Motives and copycatting

Avoid speculation about the motives behind the perpetrator’s behaviour. Unfounded conjecture may unduly influence vulnerable people.

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Murder-Suicide Quick Reference Guide

Murder Suicide

A murder-suicide is when a person kills members of their family before taking their own life, or where an individual murders a number of people in a public place, such as a school, before taking their own life.
The generally accepted definition of murder suicide is murder followed by the suicide of the perpetrator(s) within 24 hours.

[Logan, J.; Hill, H.A.; Lynberg Black, M.; Crosby, A.; Karcg, D.L.; Barnes, J.D.; Lubell, K.M. (2008) Characteristics of perpetrators in homicide-followed-by-suicide incidents: national violent death reporting system — 17 US States, 2003–2005]

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Audiences can react to your content in unpredictable, and sometimes harmful ways. Journalists and producers are advised to provide details of helplines alongside any potentially harmful or triggering content. For audiences needing help dealing with issues around murder-suicide or domestic violence you can direct them to:

The Samaritans
116 123
(24-hour helpline)

 

Women’s Aid
1800 341 900
(24-hour helpline)

The Samaritans
116 123
(24-hour helpline)

Women’s Aid
1800 341 900
(24-hour helpline)

About Headline

Headline is Ireland’s national programme for responsible reporting, and representation of mental illness and suicide. Our objective is to work as collaboratively as possible with Irish media professionals across print, broadcast, and online platforms to reduce the effects of suicide contagion, and the stigma attached to mental ill health.

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