When Debra Eik parked her car on a deserted Spokane Valley road, shot her two sons, then turned the gun on herself, she shook two pillars of a sacred institution motherhood.
The first: Women don’t shoot their children, they protect them.
The second: Mothers don’t kill themselves, no matter how desperate they become, because they feel compelled to stay alive to take care of their kids.
It’s uncommon for a woman to violate one of the rules, according to experts on suicide and murder. It’s almost unheard of for a mother to violate both.
“It’s a pretty darn rare event,” said psychologist Paul Quinnett, director of Greentree Behavioral Health in Spokane and a national expert on suicide.
Homicide investigators agree.
“I can’t think of one ever happening here,” said Lt. John Simmons, a veteran investigator with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department.
Authorities believe Eik shot her sons, Brandon, 6, and Brian, 11, in the chest with a pistol before putting the gun to her own head and pulling the trigger Nov. 1.
Brian, bleeding and frantic, called 911 from a cellular telephone at 10:17 p.m. and pleaded for help.
The 11-year-old escaped serious injury when the bullet passed through his upper chest without hitting any vital organs.
Deputies found the wounded boy in the family’s green GMC Yukon on Vicari Road. Inside the car, his brother and mother were dead.
Detectives have no motive in what has been ruled a murder-suicide.
A suicide note has not been found and there is no evidence that Debra Eik, who worked at a Post Falls timber mill and was married for 13 years, was having mental problems, Simmons said.
“We don’t have a divorce in progress. We don’t have any evidence of sexual abuse against her or the kids. We don’t have any evidence of domestic violence,” he said.
“What we appear to have is a middle-class American family that all of a sudden disconnected some wires, and when they put them back together, it short-circuited.”
Investigators plan to question Brian and his father, Ed Eik, this week in an attempt to find out what motivated Debra Eik, Simmons said.
But that answer may never be known, he said.
There were slightly more than 7,000 murder-suicides in America last year, according to a Justice Department report. A community the size of Spokane can expect a handful every year.
Ninety percent of those are committed by men, who usually kill their wives or girlfriends.
Children and teenagers were responsible for approximately 3 percent. Women were responsible for just under 3 percent. In the rest of the cases, it was not clear who was responsible.
“You want to believe there’s one relationship in life that’s beyond betrayal. A relationship that’s beyond hurt,” author Caleb Carr said in a recent interview with Salon magazine. “And there isn’t.”
Carr researched cases of maternal violence for his recent novel, “Angel of Darkness.”
“For a fairly high percentage of women, having children eliminates the possibility of suicide no matter how bad they feel,” said David Treadway, a Weston, Mass., psychologist who wrote a book about his mother’s suicide.
Of the 31,000 people who commit suicide every year in this country, less than 40 percent are women.
Statistically, mothers are less likely than the general population to kill themselves, even though they are more likely to suffer from depression.
Twenty percent of American women suffer from depression, Quinnett said. The rate is 10 percent for men.
“When you are treating a mother who is suicidal, the strongest protective factor in those cases is that she is responsible for the care of a minor child,” Quinnett said. “The more children a woman has, the less likely she is to commit suicide.”
And in a world where respected institutions like church, government and families have fallen into disrepair, the concept of motherhood is something most cultures cling to.
There’s a reason why so many fairy tale figures - Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel - are motherless. Walt Disney explained it well when he offered: “You can’t have danger with a mother around.”
Treadway theorizes that women are most likely to act out of misplaced altruism. In the case of a murder-suicide involving children he offered two theories: either she believes her suicide would be too emotionally painful for her children to endure, or she wants her children to escape the same agony she is experiencing.
“In my opinion, a mother never kills her child out of hatred,” Quinnett said.
Men involved in murder-suicides are often seeking revenge or vindication.
“Society has dealt with men being irrational since the beginning of time,” Treadway said. “But the idea that a mother could do this violates our very notion of motherhood. And that’s a safety net that we all cling to.”
When it happens, people are left with anger, confusion and the big question - why?
“When something like this happens, it happens to all of us,” Quinnett said.
Residents of Rigby, a small town in southeastern Idaho, are still bewildered by a murder-suicide that shook the community nearly three years ago.
One day in late December 1994, 44-year-old Mary Myers killed her two sons and a neighbor girl before shooting herself in the head with the same .22-caliber pistol.
“There were many, many people who were shocked by it, including me,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Blair Olsen. “I can feel for you guys up there. It sets everybody back as a community.”
Myers left a note in which she took responsibility for the planned bloodshed, but she didn’t explain why she did it, Olsen said.
“We never determined, and probably never will, what pushed her to do something like that,” he said. “That question still lingers up here.”
At a memorial service in Spokane Wednesday, the Rev. Paul Rodkey of Bethany Presbyterian Church asked friends and family of the Eiks not to speculate about what drove Debra lEik to such desperate measures. “Stop asking why,” he said.
Instead, Rodkey urged, loved ones should honor Brandon and Debra Eik and address their own despair.
“If you have darkness, in the name of God deal with it,” he said. “If we don’t learn and grow from this tragedy, then it will have been a waste.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SUICIDE PREVENTION Suicide is the ninth-leading cause of deaths in the United States, yet little money is spent on prevention. A resolution that recently passed the House of Representatives would declare suicide prevention a national priority and encourage development of prevention programs. For more information, contact the Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network, 5034 Odins Way, Marietta, Ga. 30068. Call (888) 649-1366.