+ A

Families’ desperation puts kids at lethal risk

May 23,2019
A family murder-suicide is raising dark questions about the vulnerability of children to life and death decisions of parents in desperate mental states.

On Monday morning, a middle school boy woke up in his apartment in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, to find his parents and sister dead from stab wounds.

Based on their investigation so far, police say the family had financial problems and the father, aged 50 and identified only by the surname Seo, had chosen to kill his wife, 46, his daughter, 18, and then himself.

Seo’s mobile phone contained numerous messages asking for money from acquaintances and relatives. The surviving son overheard his parents arguing about their financial situation Sunday night, police said.

After conducting preliminary autopsies of the bodies, investigators concluded that Seo hesitated before killing himself, while the daughter’s body showed signs that she resisted before she was killed by her father. The wife, police say, was likely killed in her sleep since no signs of struggle were found on her body.

At the scene, police found three weapons believed to be used to commit the murder-suicides. They didn’t identify the weapons, but the wounds were stabs or cuts.

Police say Seo ran a woodworking firm in nearby Pocheon, but recently had to close it down to work as a day laborer due to outstanding debts amounting to several hundred million won. Because of his age, Seo had difficulty finding work and his wife had been supporting the family on a small clerk’s income.

“Right now, further investigation is necessary to look into [Seo’s] debt issue, which appears to be the most likely basis for the crime,” a police spokesman said on Wednesday. “We are currently looking into insurance issues, family relationships and analyzing medical records that may give us an understanding of what situation this family was in before the incident.”

The only survivor, Seo’s 15-year-old son, is said to be in a state of shock and is being looked after by his grandparents. Crime analysts say he may have been spared the tragedy based on a patriarchal belief that he should carry on the family name.

In an interview with CBS radio on Wednesday, Lee Sue-jung, a professor who teaches criminal psychology at Kyonggi University, said this crime was one of a number of family-related murders in Korea, which she said amounted to 34 percent of the total number of murder cases according to statistics from 2017. “Some use the term ‘joint suicide’ [to refer to family-related murder-suicides,] but such a term itself is highly cruel,” Lee said. “If you look at it, the daughter was an independent person, but [the term] implies a mentality that the right to her life was in the hands of her father.”

According to police statistics, the number of murders among family members, known as parricide, amounted to 266 cases from 2013 to 2017. This, however, does not include cases in which parents killed their children, for which there are no updated official statistics.

Earlier this month, a 10-year-old boy was found dead in an apartment in Gimpo due to gas poisoning; his mother hung herself in another room. On Children’s Day this month, a couple in their thirties was found dead with their four- and two-year-old children in a car in Siheung, Gyeonggi. Both cases, as well as five other cases reported by the media this year alone, were believed to be prompted by financial difficulties faced by the parents.

Professor Lee and other experts say the government needs to strengthen monitoring efforts to prevent such family-based crimes and protect children from such dangers, as well as widen the social safety net to disabuse parents of the belief that their children won’t be taken care of if they do not perish together.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]