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January 12, 2009

Following the fatal shooting of a young Concord woman, some facts about murder-suicide

Details began to emerge Monday about the death Sunday night of Serena Montes, 25, who was mortally wounded in a shooting on Acacia Drive in North Concord Sunday Night. Police say her killer was her estranged husband, Jason Montes, 33, who shot and killed himself in the head soon after firing at her.

Serena was born in Walnut Creek and was a 2001 graduate of Mt. Diablo High School and later of San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy. She was working as a pastry chef in the city when she was killed.


Stunned family members knew that her relationship with her husband had soured and that they were splitting up, according to the Contra Costa Times. As far as family members knew, the split was amicable. Still, the family told the Times, Jason Montes had threatened suicide before and was having a hard time letting go of his marriage. Many experts would say his statements about suicide fit the definition of a "red flag" that he was terribly troubled.
The Times reports that Jason Montes was also under financial strain: Federal records show that he filed for bankruptcy last summer. Meanwhile, on her Facebook page, Serena listed herself as divorced, but also had his photo posted as one of her "friends."


So, life for Jason Montes was apparently spiraling out of control, and he decided to end it in this way, according to the Times:
Police went to a home in the 2200 block of Acacia Drive, off Port Chicago Highway in North Concord, about 5:30 p.m., when they found Montes, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and his wife, Serena Montes, gravely injured from a gunshot wound. She died at a hospital that evening, police said.

Investigators said Jason Montes had called a friend in Sacramento, his hometown, saying he just shot his wife and was going to commit suicide. The friend called Sacramento County authorities, who informed Concord police.

The Monteses married in September 2007 and had been living with a roommate, who was not home during the shooting. … Mary Lesley, Serena Montes' mother, said the two met online and were getting along until last summer, when they grew unhappy and tried marriage counseling, which was ineffective. Eventually, Serena Montes decided she was going to leave the relationship.

"She knew she had to start again," Lesley said. "He was having a hard time with it. He didn't want to let go of her."

Serena Montes moved into her parents' house a week ago, but would visit her estranged husband at the home they shared for a year. Lesley said Jason Montes had threatened suicide before but that her daughter dissuaded him.


This pattern of estrangement, prior suicide threats, appeasement, and reconciliation probably wouldn’t surprise experts in domestic violence, suicide, or murder-suicide.

The Center for Suicide Prevention, based in Calgary, Alberta, lists these as dominant themes in murder-suicides:

• The genesis of homicide-suicide lies in a frustrated, chaotic, intimate, long-term personal relationship. Homicide-suicide rarely happens among strangers or persons in short-term relationships.
• A key pattern in the chaotic relationship is extreme ambivalence—a vacillation between anger and love.
• Jealousy and morbid jealousy—a delusion that one’s sexual partner has been sexually unfaithful.
• The triggering event is often a separation or threatened separation from one’s love object.
• Depression—the offender’s separation from his or her significant other is often marked by severe depression, and severe depression is also a risk factor for suicide.
• Helplessness—the act is seen as the consequence of unbearable powerlessness.
• Guilt and self-blame—the perpetrator’s realization that he has committed the crime produces a suicidal impulse.

A far-reaching portrait of murder-suicide in America comes in 2006 from the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Violence Policy Center.
The center undertook this study because, it says, murder-suicide “is emerging as a growing public health problem” and many murder-suicides “cause countless additional morbidity, family trauma, and disruption of communities.” Medical studies estimate that between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths per year result from murder-suicide.

Some notable findings from the Violence Policy Center that are applicable to the death of Serena Montes include:

• Most murder-suicides involve a firearm. In the analysis, 92 percent of murder-suicide incidents involved a firearm.
• Most murderers in murder-suicides are male: In this study, 94 percent of the offenders were male.
• Most murder-suicides involve an intimate partner: The most common type of murder-suicide was between two intimate partners, with the man killing his wife or girlfriend because of a breakdown in their relationship. In this study, 74 percent of all murder-suicides involved an intimate partner. Of these, 96 percent were females killed by their intimate partners.
• Most murderers are older than their victims: While murder-suicide victims and offenders span all ages, on average the victims, usually female intimate partners, are several years younger than the offenders. Jason Montes was eight years older than his wife.
• Most murder-suicides occur in the home: In this study, 75 percent of murder-suicides occurred in the home. For intimate partners, however, 77 percent of incidents occurred in the home.

The study concludes:

"Most people think of suicide as a solitary act, affecting only one person. Yet, the effects of murder-suicide go far beyond the shooter: family, friends, co-workers, and absolute strangers are among those who are killed as a result of these acts of desperation. … During the six-month period tallied in this study, there were 264 suicides—yet the total number of deaths was 591. More people died from murders associated with the suicide—327—than from the suicides themselves. These numbers call into grave question the common belief that suicide, especially firearms suicide, is a solitary act that affects only the shooter."

Although Contra Costa County and local police showed no records of police calls, restraining orders, or any other sign of potential violence between Jason and Serena Montes, the Violence Policy Center study emphasizes that “domestic violence is associated with a very significant number of murder-suicides.”

Notably, the study says: “the most common catalytic component in murder-suicide is the use of a firearm. Firearms allow shooters to act on impulse. Every major murder-suicide study ever conducted has shown that a firearm—with its unmatched combination of lethality and availability—is the weapon most often used to murder the victims, with the offenders then turning the gun on themselves. … The presence of a gun allows the offender to quickly and easily kill a greater number of victims.

The study concludes: “If there had not been easy access to a firearm, these deaths may simply have been injuries, or not have occurred at all. Efforts should be made to restrict access to firearms where there is an increased risk of murder-suicide, for example where an individual has a history of domestic violence and/or has threatened suicide."

The Crisis Center of Contra Costa offers some guidelines on how to help someone whom you think is at risk of hurting himself or someone else.

One key point the center makes is: "There’s a myth that people who talk about suicide won't really do it. This is wrong. Before attempting suicide, many people make direct statements about their intention to end their lives or less direct comments about how they might as well be dead or that their friends and family will be better off without them. Any reference to suicide should be taken seriously."

If you or someone you know is thinking of hurting himself, call (800) 273-TALK or (800) SUICIDE. You can also call the Crisis Intervention line at (800) 833-2900. You can also visit the Crisis Center's website by clicking here.

8 comments:

rkt said...

Hi CiS,

First - this whole situation is horrible, thanks for posting the good information re: warning signs and DV.

However,

Do you know that the sole purpose of the "Violence Policy Center" (formerly Handgun Control Inc. if I remember correctly) is to ban firearms in the United States by vilifying firearms and lawful firearms owners? Their statistics are usually flawed. here VPC is trying to equate suicide deaths by handgun with murder-suicide, I think we can all agree that there is a HUGE difference when MURDER is involved.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
Thanks very much for your comment. Yes, I was aware that the Violence Policy Center had an agenda regarding firearms.

And yes, I can see your point that they might want to use the issue of murder-suicide to advance their anti-handgun agenda.

In quoting the Center, I was in no way intending to get into the debate over whether lawful citizens should be able to own handguns for self-protection.

And according to the U.S. Justice Department, "the number of male and female intimate victims killed with guns has fallen."

HOWEVER, the Justice Department says that "in general, guns are most often used in intimate homicide [from 1990 to 2005)" and "over two-thirds of the spouse and ex-spouse victims were killed by guns."

So, the Violence Policy Center's statistics might be inflated, but firearms are still involved in the large majority of these cases.

Moreover, with regard to homicides in general, the Justice Department says: "Homicides are most often committed with guns, especially handguns. Like the homicide rate generally, gun-involved incidents increased sharply in the late 1980s and early 1990s before falling to a low in 1999. The number of gun-involved homicides [has since] increased thereafter to levels experienced in the mid 1980s."

As for the homicide versus suicide issue: several years ago, I was in the position to research murder-suicides, and the experts I talked to and studies I read said that it is important to look at these cases more within the context of suicide than homicide. The motives of the perpetrators tend to be driven by suicidal thinking and all that involves.

And most suicide prevention experts would all say that a top thing you should check on-if you're dealing with a possibly suicidal loved one--is whether that person possesses or has access to firearms.

Again, thanks for your comment.

Soccer Mom said...

Sorry, comment above was posted by Soccer Mom, not "Anonymous." Just hit the wrong buttons when I hit publish.

sflovestory said...

All this is very troubling and honestly makes me feel (as a woman) angry.

But I also have a question: Did you find any race-related statistics? As in, are white men more likely to commit murder-suicide? Curious.

Soccer Mom said...

Dear sflovestory,
Thanks for your question. It's a good one, and I'll check into it. Actually, I think there are statistics to indicate whether white men are more likely to commit murder-suicidel

Anonymous said...

Do your fucking research, and wait for the full story to develop. Now factor in the likelihood of Prozac causing the tragedy.

Soccer Mom said...

Dear Anonymous Who Suggested I Do my F------ Research,
Do you know something about Mr. Montes and any medication he was taking? Eyewitness or personal information you would care to share? Anti-depressanants, such as Prozac, can have adverse affects on some people that they are supposed to help, depending on a lot of things, dosage, whether the person is being properly monitored, whether the person is following doctor's order. Anti-depressants vary and different ones affect different people in different ways. They can make some people more agitated and despondent, and send people who are actually bipolar into a manic state. (I think it's common to first diagnose someone who's bipolar with depression and try the anti-depressant regimin.) It's something that I would be interested in pursuing, but my ability to research this is pretty limited. By patient confidentiality. By what the investigators or family choose to reveal. There's always the autopsy, and the results of the toxicolgy tests, which are generally made open to the public. Those tests take several weeks to complete. If you have some personal knowledge that this is worth checking into, I'll make a note to do so.

Anonymous said...

SoccerMom,
Thanks for posting this. Its excellent information and such a tragic event.

Thanks again for taking the time to post this.