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.
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:
• 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 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.