Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Murder-Suicide in West Georgia

From WALB News:

FORT GAINES, GA (WALB) - A shocking murder-suicide rocked a small town in Clay County. Authorities say in broad daylight a man shot and killed his long-time girlfriend, then turned the gun on himself Monday afternoon.

What looked like a bad afternoon wreck on a rainy day in Fort Gaines was much more . . .

There was extensive damage done after authorities say 40-year-old Eddie Heard Junior rammed his truck head on into 29-year-old Angela Sands' car. "Jumped out and went around and shot her at least twice from what we can tell at the moment and turned around and took a self-inflicted shot to the head," said [Clay County Sheriff Roger] Shivers.

Sands was hit in the chest and head with bullets from a revolver. The couple apparently had a history of domestic disturbances.

The family and friends of the victim and the man who took her life are in our thoughts and prayers, especially the children the couple left behind.

There is good and bad reporting in this story. First, the good:

In the title of the story ("Man kills girlfriend, then kills himself"), the blame is placed exactly where it belongs. Many domestic violence story titles imply that the victim is somehow responsible, for instance that cheating was the cause of the violence. This title recognizes that the perpetrator is to blame.

Secondly, the article recognizes that this was a case of domestic violence, and that the murderer has a history of such violence against his partner. So often media outlets treat these homicides as isolated incidents, and we are glad that WALB pointed out that this was an escalation of the violence that was already happening in the relationship.

It’s also important that the reporter noted that these deaths were preventable. The couple had a history of domestic violence documented by the police. If the batterer had been arrested and prosecuted, the victim in this case might still be alive.

The bad:

The quotes selected for a story can do a lot to tell us about community beliefs about domestic violence, but they can also be misleading about its nature. Sheriff Shivers states, "If you can't get along, there's easier ways to handle it than this." It’s quite disturbing that an officer of the law would reduce the nature of domestic violence to that of squabbling, rather than a history of physical abuse and control that ultimately ended in a homicide. If the station really felt the need to include that specific comment, some follow up remarks about the true nature of domestic violence would help readers/viewers understand what really happens in these relationships and why supporting survivors of family violence is vitally important.

Another troublesome quote is this one: “’Man this is just tragic that two nice people like this had to lose their lives over something that could have been prevented a long time ago,’ said Glenn Neal.” If he killed his girlfriend in such a violent way, is he really a nice person? Perhaps that could have been followed up with comments explaining how batterers are often good community members and hide their violent natures with everyone except their partner. This could be an important teaching moment. Batterers can seem like great guys and may be your brother, your boss, your friend, the pastor at your church, or anyone else you would never suspect.

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