Mental health counselors were on the alert Tuesday for calls from people depressed or possibly suicidal about money woes, after an unemployed financial manager killed five family members and himself.
The widely publicized tragedy, which unfolded Monday after worried friends summoned police to the family’s San Fernando Valley home, may spur an influx of calls to suicide prevention and crisis hot lines from people in similar financial straits, or even other suicides, said Marvin J. Southard, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.
“One of the things we’re afraid of is these things sometimes lead to a copycat phenomenon,” Southard said. “This didn’t come out of the blue. Everybody’s been affected by the economic crisis in some way.”
The department on Tuesday dispatched crisis response teams to counsel relatives, friends and neighbors of Karthik Rajaram’s family, who were found shot to death Monday morning in their home in an upscale gated community in Porter Ranch.
Rajaram, 45, left a suicide note to police saying he was in financial trouble and contemplated killing just himself. But he said he decided to kill his five family members then himself because that was more honorable, police said.
Rajaram, who had master’s of business administration degree in finance, once worked for a major accounting firm and for Sony Pictures, and he had been part-owner of a financial holding company. But he had been out of work for several months, police said.
Men can be particularly affected if they lose their job or investments because their identity tends to be tied to being a good family provider, said Long Beach clinical psychologist Jana Martin.
However, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that women reported higher stress levels over money problems because they often manage the family checkbook, Martin added.
The Rajaram case fits into the “family annihilator” pattern of suicide, said John Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center in Washington D.C.
In that scenario, a person, usually the father, is so overwhelmed by events beyond his control that he decides his family is better off dead than being left to cope with the problems if he only kills himself.
“Oftentimes it is financially related,” Sugarmann said. “This is not an uncommon scenario.”
Police say Rajaram used a gun he purchased last month to shoot his 39-year-old wife, three sons aged 7, 12 and 19, and his 69-year-old mother-in-law.
All appeared to have been shot in their beds and did not try to run away, Detective John Doerbecker said on Tuesday. Investigators ordered toxicology reports to determine whether Rajaram drugged his family before shooting them.
“There has to be an explanation for their remaining,” Doerbecker said. He said he suspected Rajaram shot his wife first, then the children.
Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Michel Moore described the scene as having a “terrible impact” on responders and crisis teams were sent Tuesday to talk with the professionals who witnessed the carnage.
The Los Angeles Unified School District sent counselors to the schools the two younger children attended.
Moore urged people who spot signs of depression in family and friends to seek help as soon as possible to prevent such tragedies.
“Even if the individuals themselves don’t reach out for that assistance, we would ask that people intervene,” Moore said.
Psychologists urge people in financial straits not to panic but to consider how they have weathered tough times before and to look at the concrete steps they can take to find a new job or place to live, Martin said.