Homicide in the family
November 29, 2004 12:11 PM   Subscribe

My cousin and his family were found dead yesterday. While he and I were not close in recent years because we'd lost touch, I feel deep sadness for what my aunt and uncle are going through. (I am still in touch with them.) This leaves me with two questions. What is the normal process of a homicide investigation? What is an appropriate/meaningful way to show support to my aunt and uncle even though I live out of state and am completely unable to attend any funeral arrangements which may be made?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total)
I was raised that you take a casserole over to the house of anyone who's had a death in the family. The idea was that they weren't up to cooking, and there also needed to be food to feed people dropping by to express condolences.

You could update this by sending your aunt and uncle food. This could be as inexpensive as mailing them homemade cookies or as costly as something from, say, Zingerman's.

And listen.
posted by QIbHom at 12:30 PM on November 29, 2004

Please accept my condolences for your loss.

I don't know about the homicide investigation, but I have lost both of my parents and my best friend. What I found helpful was when people acknowledged the loss and offered to lend a helping hand or ear. I am still hurt by the fact that when my best friend died last spring the guys that live downstairs from me simply said "oh that's too bad." But when they had to put their 15 y.o. dog to sleep you would have thought the world was coming to an end. Alas, I digress....

It's really important to show acknowledgment. You can do this by telephoning, emailing and writing. I recommend you do all three. And you don't do it just once, you do it again and again. Meaning, you call your aunt every few days and ask if there's anything that you can do or you call and say "I've been thinking about you today." Knowing that you're in someone's thoughts when your grieving is really helpful.

Of course, sending flowers, bringing food, offering to run errands, cleaning their house, etc. is really important as well.
posted by Juicylicious at 12:36 PM on November 29, 2004

Not that I've got much personal experience on the topic, but to follow up on Juicylicious' suggestion, I would think that a sincere, hand-written letter would probably have as much impact as a gesture as for what it says.

On a broader note, if you can't be there in person, you might try and work behind the scenes to make sure that the folks who are closer continue to drop off food, etc., after "consolation fatigue" has set in. I know that friends of ours who suffered a real loss felt that everyone was chipping in to help out while they were still too numb to really feel it or need it, or while they were still going through their routine to keep themselves occupied. It was a couple of weeks afterwards, when things had really sunk in, when they really could have used the help, but people's efforts had kind of tailed off at that point.
posted by LairBob at 12:52 PM on November 29, 2004

we went through a homicide investigation as a family a few years ago (and i go through them professionally all the time--i'm an attorney in criminal law); it's really terrible. more so than the "normal" loss from disease or old age. there's two very different questions and two very different sets of answers.

1) how do i help my aunt & uncle deal with the loss of their son and his family?; and 2) how do i help my aunt & uncle deal with the homicide investigation?

i don't have much to say about #1, except that while you shouldn't ignore the circumstances of the deaths when talking about how sorry you are or how much you'll miss your cousin, you should most definitely focus more on the "normal" aspects of the loss: how sorry you are; how much they'll be missed; sharing fond memories; offering what practical help you can at a distance.

i could talk for days about #2. "normal" for a homicide investigation is hard to say without knowing more about your cousin and his family and the basic details of the crime. it's possible that another relative or close friend will be prime suspect. what you should do in that case is not talk to the press and not really talk to the person about the details of what the police have asked. this is one of the times when the answer to #1 conflicts with the answer to #2

generally, homicide investigations wrap up within 6-9 months or they don't wrap up at all (ours was never closed). trial & verdict can come as quickly one year from the death, but usually take much longer. it's very important that the victim's family have a support network at trial. court services will generally provide one, but having a family member along as well is a good idea. the court services person will handle logistics, will work with the baliffs to keep the defendant's family from approaching the victim's family, will help explain much of what the court does that seems offensive to the families.

generally, homicide investigations entail a number of very intrusive questions and a lot of what seems to be casting doubts on the character of the victim. it is generally true that people are not randomly murdered--not that people deserve to be murdered or bring it upon themselves, but that they most often know their assailant(s), at least casually. therefore, questions about the victim often have to be answered before the police can figure out who might have killed him/them and why. this very often is hurtful to the people left behind. if you can offer a sympathetic ear, please do, but try to keep your responses to "that's terrible" "i'm so sorry you had to go through that on top of everything else" and the positive things you remember about the victim. that's a legal need; not an emotional one; so there's lots of reasons to disagree with that advice. nonetheless, it's the advice i would give (just based generally on what i have encountered in criminal cases, not as specific legal advice).

feel free to email me if you'd like.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:06 PM on November 29, 2004

If the deaths were from a natural cause, I'd imagine the investigation will probably be over relatively quickly. If not, it could take many months. I worked at the NYC DA's office for a stint, and depending on the complexity of the case (gang-related, etc.) your family might face the very real possibility of having to deal with this for the next couple of years. My deepest sympathy to your family.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2004

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