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A Silent (and Violent) Epidemic

The global economic crisis has played no small part in a range of extreme acts.

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 11:40 AM EDT

This story first appeared on the Tom Dispatch website.


Body Count 3
By Nick Turse

After David B. Kellermann, the chief financial officer of beleaguered mortgage giant Freddie Mac, tied a noose and hanged himself in the basement of his Vienna, Virginia, home, the New York Times made it a front-page story. The stresses of the job in economic tough times, its reporters implied, had driven him to this extreme act.

"Binghamton Shooter" Jiverly Wong also garnered front-page headlines nationwide and set off a cable news frenzy when, "bitter over job loss," he massacred 13 people at an immigration center in upstate New York. Similarly, coverage was brisk after Pittsburgh resident Richard Poplawski, "upset about recently losing a job," shot four local police officers, killing three of them.

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But where was the front-page treatment when, in January, Betty Lipply, a 72-year-old resident of East Palestine, Ohio, "who feared she'd lose her home to foreclosure hanged herself to death" shortly after "receiving her second summons and foreclosure complaint from her mortgage lender"? And where was the up-to-the-minute cable news reporting on the two California dairy farmers who "killed themselves... out of despair over finances, according to associates"?

Mass Murder, Mass Media, and Missing Stories

Last summer, in the pages of the Nation magazine, Barbara Ehrenreich called attention to people turning to "the suicide solution" in response to the burgeoning financial crisis. Months later, major news outlets started to examine the same phenomenon. Last fall, a TomDispatch report on suicides and a range of other extreme acts—including self-inflicted injury, murder, arson, and armed self-defense—in response to foreclosures, evictions, bankruptcies, and layoffs, was followed, months later, by mainstream media attention to the notion of "econo-cide"—prompted, in large part, by a spate of familicides (murder/suicides in which both parents and their children die).

While it's impossible to know the myriad factors, including deeply personal ones, that contribute to people resorting to drastic measures, violent or otherwise, many press reports suggest that the global economic crisis has played no small part in a range of extreme acts.

An analysis by TomDispatch of national, regional, and local news reports in 2008 and early 2009 indicates that a silent, nationwide epidemic of drastic measures may be underway. News of such acts linked to economic woes—from armed robberies to pay the rent to financially-motivated suicides—has filtered out of cities and towns in no less than 30 states, many of which have seen multiple incidents. And since only a fraction of such acts ever receives media coverage, what is being reported, even if mostly in local newspapers, qualifies as startling.

For every Jiverly Wong, who garners days of cable-news coverage, there are untold despondent and desperate dairy farmers and retirees battered by the economy and at wits' end who respond by subjecting themselves, others, or property to violence and are hardly noticed. What follows is a sampling of such incidents, most reported locally, and organized by month—no month lacked such reports—since the beginning of this year.

January 2009

David Kelley lost his job in September 2008. As values plummeted on his Clairemont, California, home as well as the rental properties he owned, he reportedly became "overwhelmed by debt and depression." On January 5th, he shot himself. "He saw his good life and successful career slipping away," said his stepmother. "He couldn't see beyond the struggles he was having."

According to a police report, Manchester, Missouri, resident Frank Kavano, 66, who killed his wife and then himself, left a suicide note that mentioned "financial issues and difficulty in the marriage."

After losing a bet on a college football bowl game—on top of losing his home to foreclosure—Dante Vinci, age 48, reportedly stabbed a man to death outside a Reno, Nevada, sports bar.

February 2009

According to a news report, Gregory and Randolph Graham, third-generation car dealers from Ligonier, Pennsylvania, "watched helplessly over the past year as their business collapsed under the weight of the recession." One night, Gregory, 61, set fire to some of the cars at his dealership and "died of a heart attack next to the burning wreckage." Days later, Randolph, 51, "was found dead, slumped over the wheel of his car in what may have been a suicide."

When Otero County, New Mexico, sheriff's deputies tried to serve foreclosure papers on Miguel and Inga Gutierrez, the couple armed themselves and opened fire. After a 16-hour standoff, Miguel was found dead and Inga was taken into custody.

"Unemployed, awash in debt and hiding an October foreclosure from loved ones," 55-year-old Wayne "Mike" Anderson of Stratmoor Valley, Colorado, shot himself to death as a sheriff's deputy, ready to evict him, stood at his doorstep.

In Glyndon, Maryland, advertising executive Howard "Jack" Marks Jr., 63, killed himself after, his wife told the police, financial woes left him in danger of losing his business.

According to news reports, 53-year-old Jeffrey P. McKnight of Pataskala, Ohio, was "struggling financially and overwhelmed with caring for his elderly father" when he set his house ablaze and then killed his dad and himself.

Reportedly "upset over being unemployed and his financial status," George Vincent, 49, of Fort Meyers, Florida, drank copious amounts of beer, after which his wife called the police, telling them her husband was drunk, armed, and suicidal. When Vincent pulled a gun on responding officers, they opened fire, killing him, in what the state attorney's office deemed to be a case of suicide-by-cop.

March 2009

Lonnie Glasco walked into the San Diego, California, bus-maintenance depot where he worked as a mechanic and shot two fellow employees, one fatally, before police gunned him down. A friend said Glasco, 47, was "despondent over losing his wife and his home."

Michael McLendon, age 28 and "despondent over his inability to hold a job," fatally shot nine people in Samson, Alabama, and killed a 10th in a neighboring county.

After 46-year-old Springfield Township, Ohio, resident Michael Swiergosz's home went into "foreclosure and had been set for sheriff's sale," he barricaded himself inside "during a standoff with authorities that lasted three hours," before being arrested.

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