THE BLOG

Murder-Suicide Rise a Terrible Wake up Call for All

01/28/2009 08:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Ervin Antonio Lupoe, who Tuesday killed his family then himself, tried to contact my organization, the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, with complaints that he had experienced discrimination and harassment at his workplace, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center West Los Angeles.The complaints now are even more alarming. Lupoe killed himself, his wife and his five children in their south Los Angeles home and left no doubt why he committed this horrific act. In a bitter letter to a Los Angeles TV station, the former Kaiser Hospital lab technician railed at the hospital for unjustly firing him and his wife.

There were other reports that Lupoe had been harassed by supervisors. The allegation was that some of it was racially motivated. One supervisor allegedly told Ervin Lupoe and his wife, according to the letter Lupoe left behind, "You should have blown your brains out."

Kaiser denied the allegations and hinted that the reason for the couple's firing involved unspecified detrimental actions.

This writer has received past complaints of harassment and discrimination from black employees and a Kaiser union representative. Lupoe was only one. The employee complaints of discrimination cannot be substantiated. However, they do set off loud warning bells that something went terribly wrong in the way Kaiser handled the Lupoes' firings. And that the Kaiser management should take a long, hard look at how it handles its employee relations.

The Lupoe family tragedy is only the latest such incident. The murder-suicide last October of Karthik Rajaram and his family in Porter Ranch, a bedroom community north of Los Angeles, set off the first alarm that the mounting economic wreckage could push more people over the edge.

The edge in this case is not just a distressed individual committing suicide but taking out his or her family members, too. This horrific desperate act has been tragically played out three times in the last two weeks in L.A. County. Each time a family member, apparently despondent over job loss or financial worries, killed himself and other family members. Each time the family carnage has been more gruesome.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, more than 30,000 persons kill themselves each year. The CDC noted that in a significant number of these cases there was job loss or severe financial hardship. One mental health agency that tracks mental health referrals in California found that the number of such referrals leaped more than 200 percent in 2008.

Nearly all of those seeking help suffered some type of financial hardship. In a grotesque irony, San Francisco Medical Center, owned by Kaiser, the Lupoe's employer, recently reported that psychiatric referrals had leaped more than 400 percent in 2008. The overwhelming majority of them were related to financial distress.

The CDC expects the number of those severely financially strapped to rise as the economy continues to tank. Minorities have borne the brunt of the wave of job losses and home foreclosures. And mental health professionals warn that as the economy slides they expect to see a continued jump in the number of those seeking treatment for depression.

While researchers say that unemployment alone does not cause suicide, losing a job combined with financial uncertainty, the loss of retirement savings, and the stress of overdue bills, and mortgage or rent payments can create the perfect storm for an individual to feel that suicide is the only way out, and that often includes taking the lives of his or her family.

The murder-suicide of an entire family is the ultimate desperate act. And it's a dire warning to cities and counties, health professionals and employers that a financially stressed employee or former employee represents a potential powder keg, which can explode at any time.

This calls for drastically increasing funding and expansion of counseling jobs, and referral and crisis prevention hotline services. It also means insuring that the general public knows where it can go to get help.

This may not have been enough to stop Lupoe from committing his heinous act. However, it could save others who are in desperate need of help. With the economy in steady free fall, it's almost certain that there will be thousands more Americans, facing unemployment, who will want and need that help.

When men such as Lupoe kill themselves innocents also pay the price. Invariably those innocents are children. That's a terrible wake-up call for us all.