Friends of the woman who died Sunday along with her four daughters gathered Monday at the Jerusalem school where two of the girls studied, unable to explain the tragedy. Police initially suspected a murder-suicide, and an autopsy on two of the children on Monday revealed that they had been strangled. Police believe the mother – who has not been named – killed her children and then set their room on fire. She was found outside, after seemingly committing suicide.
However, her friends said Monday that while it was known that the mother suffered from emotional problems, she had shown no signs of distress in recent days and had been functioning well.
“I knew the mother well,” said one of the moms whose child was in the same class as the two girls. “She was devoted, there aren’t mothers like her – I’m not as devoted to my children as she was.”
“She wouldn’t let her daughters go to friends after school, because she wanted them to come home and have lunch,” she added. “My daughters saw her as a second mother and she really was like one to them. She was head and shoulders above the rest. Last Thursday, she asked for some notes to prepare for an exam scheduled for this week.”
“It was obviously difficult for her, but we didn’t notice anything unusual,” added another mother. “There were no warning signs – it was 10 minutes of losing it. Maybe it came after she spent a whole week with them during their Hanukkah vacation. It was hard on her,” added another mother.
The father of the children had originally refused for the autopsy to be performed on his children. However, following an agreement reached with him, only a partial autopsy was performed on the two older siblings at the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine, Tel Aviv.
The father’s lawyer said he agreed to this in order to prevent legal proceedings over the police request.
“The father and family are totally devastated,” said his lawyer. “He’s in a Jerusalem hotel surrounded by family members and social workers. No one imagined this, there were no early signs. It’s only in retrospect that can you decipher the things that happened.”
A social worker is with the father, as well as the mother’s parents and sister. “There are issues of guilt, directed at themselves and external agencies, questioning those who didn’t diagnose or treat the issue. There were attempts to help but they were unsuccessful, but no one buried their head in the sand,” the social worked said.
There are concerns of copycat incidents following extensive media coverage of the tragedy. The police and welfare services received several calls from concerned family members on Monday. Jerusalem teachers, social workers and nurses will be briefed in coming days on how to be on the alert.
The mother was treated by psychiatric services in Jerusalem recently. She turned to one center a few weeks ago due to depression. She was not determined as posing a risk to herself or others around her, or as having early signs of suicidal tendencies.
The incident will now be evaluated, with the diagnosis and treatment examined in depth.
The chain of events is not clear at this point, likewise the mother’s mental state at the time of the incident. However, there are questions regarding the psychiatric system’s ability to detect in advance serious cases that pose potential risks.
“Cases of murder and suicide are rare, and cause public anxiety and puzzlement due to the difficulty in detecting them,” said Prof. Gil Zalsman, head of the Geha Mental Health Center, Petah Tikva. “A mother who murders her children almost always suffers from serious mental problems, according to the professional literature.”
Zalsman added that “in cases in which a mother murders her children and commits suicide, there is usually a psychotic depression, or a psychotic state due to schizophrenia. In such cases, a person is dissociated from reality and in a delusional state, with impaired judgement,” said Zalsman.
He added that this case showed the importance of early diagnosis of distress and depression, and also the importance of attention and intervention by caregivers, physicians and family members.
“They have to ask a person in distress if they have suicidal or aggressive feelings. We now know that asking the question doesn’t give them ideas, and in cases where there are such ideas, the question can save lives,” said Zalsman.