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Familicides: Why people murder close relatives

By , People Daily Digital
Monday, January 18th, 2021 00:00 | 2 mins read
Caskets bearing the remains of four family members killed in Karura, Kiambu County. Photo/PD/FILE

Evelyn Makena @evemake_g

As the bodies of four family members were being buried on Saturday at Karura in Kiambu County, speaker after speaker narrated the pain and anguish they are in following the gruesome murders of Nicholas Warunge, his wife, child and nephew at probably the hand of their first born son. 

Also killed was a mason residing in their house. Many wondered why someone could do that to relatives. 

They are still trying to make sense of what really transpired.

Though cases of violence in families are not isolated, familicides, a phenomenon where a perpetrator kills their family members are rare.

Previous cases of familicides reported in the country involved parents killing their partners and children. 

Dr Geofrey Wango, a senior lecturer in Counselling Psychology at the University of Nairobi, says familicide is a highly gendered crime with most of the perpetrators being men.

It is a crime driven by a desire for control and due to the highly patriarchal society, it is committed by men,” he says.

There are several reasons why people commit mass murder against their family members.

One of the reasons, Wango says, is a deluded belief by perpetrators that murder is a way of protecting their family members from a horrific event, which could either be real or imagined. 

This happens a lot when the perpetrators are under different kind of stress, often financial.

Second motivation for familicides is a deep hatred for family members inspired by the feeling that one is sidelined. 

Perpetrators feel that killing is a way to extricate themselves from unbearable family dynamics where they feel like outcasts.

By killing, they are under the impression that they have a permanent solution to the problem and bring peace,” he adds.

According to reports, Lawrence Warunge, who has confessed to committing the heinous murder, says he was convinced his parents were ‘demonic’. 

Perpetrator has also confessed to feeling sidelined by his parents and siblings, with his initial intentions being to wipe out the entire family. During the planning of the murders, he also intimated to the girlfriend that he was about to do something that would help them live in peace.

Dr Margaret Kagwe, a psychologist and mental health specialist, notes that perpetrators of familicides are driven by deep internal turmoil.

They could be motivated to commit such crimes by mental disturbance that may have been contributed by the family environment. 

 “It is hard to tell how he was treated as a child. For instance, comparisons between children in terms of behaviour, academic performance can breed sibling rivalry and resentment towards the family,” she says.

Overtime, these feelings of resentment can be reinforced by peers who make them believe that indeed they are hated by family members.

Drug abuse and being part of cultic practices can also drive individuals to commit such crimes.

Stab wounds

Postmortem conducted by Chief Pathologist Johansen Odour indicated that all the five succumbed to multiple stab wounds inflicted possibly by the same person.

 In his report, Odour observed the father and son had the most severe injuries, because they had multiple stab wounds and their necks severed. “It is like the person who was killing the two was doing it with a lot of anger,” he said.

Margaret observes that children who feel they were treated unfairly by their parents or siblings may grow with low mental and physical wellbeing. 

A 2010 study conducted by Cornell University, US shows parental favoritism among siblings negatively impacts their mental health and often triggers behavioural problems among children that may persist long into adulthood.