The National Institute of Justice, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice dedicated to researching and understanding crime and justice issues, indicates that a prior history of domestic violence and a prior history of poor mental health or substance abuse are common characteristics found in cases of murder-suicide in families.
Cognizant of these standard warning signs, Zachary Erwin's stepsister Jennifer Weston said she found his actions last week, in which Amy and then himself in their home, perplexing and completely unexpected.
Weston clarified she was not speaking for the entire family but as his stepsister, Erwin "wasn't ever violent," she said. "It wasn't in his personality at all. ... The Zach that I knew was pretty phenomenal."
Zach Erwin coached a Chinook Little League team, she said. He was active in his church community at the . "He was active and involved in the community," she said. "He helped single moms when he was coaching baseball, and he made my daughter laugh. I never saw any indication he would do something like this. He was dedicated and devoted to his kids."
Nonetheless, a pending divorce was casting a cloud over the husband and father, Weston said, though she was unable to provide more information behind why the couple were splitting. He was no longer living in the home he was found in along with Amy, and he was despondent. "He was devastated by the divorce. ... He was just sad and very concerned for their children."
Helping Other Potential Victims
While Enumclaw police investigators are still piecing together what events or circumstances led to these two fatalities, a murder-suicide is an example of domestic violence -- particularly as this occurred within a family.
Trip Hart, an Enumclaw attorney and member of a violence prevention task force supported by the , said in an email statement that in cases where a potential victim feels his or her life is threatened, "the most important thing for a victim to do is to reach out for an advocate -- someone who is trained and who could provide the most appropriate resources."
- DAWN 24-hour Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 425-656-7867
- YWCA Domestic Violence Services South King Co.: 206-795-2361
- YWCA Domestic Violence Services Pierce Co.: 253-383-2593
- Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline (24-hour): 800-562-6025
Hart notes that DAWN and YWCA typically help female victims, but male victims also exist in domestic violence situations and the Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline assists victims of both sexes.
While there are greater numbers of male perpetrators and female victims, he said, it is not unheard of for males to become victims as well, such as when male children are hurt in conjunction with their mothers being hurt, current boyfriends being attacked by ex-boyfriends, and incidences for same-sex couples.
Jennifer Quiroz, the economic resilience program manager at the YWCA for South King County, said the YWCA will also provide individual advocacy services to male victims as well. "We cannot offer support group, but we’ll meet one-on-one," she said in an email response.
(Editor's Note: See the attached document for more information about the various types of domestic violence as well as a number of resources offering support. It is made available courtesy of Quiroz.)
Healing a Community
It may be natural for neighbors to speculate on what caused Zach Erwin to act the way he did and take not only his life but that of his wife, Amy, a beloved teacher at Victor Falls Elementary School in Bonney Lake. They may understandably blame him for the grief now felt not only by their immediate families but by the Plateau community as a whole.
But that is no way to heal, said Dean Smith, the minister and founder of Live To Forgive Ministries. The Erwins' deaths and the two children they leave behind, resonates with Smith's own experience of facing and forgiving his stepfather who, 25 years ago here in Enumclaw, murdered his own mother. Smith wrote about his path toward forgiveness in this column in the Courier-Herald.
"The best way to honor Amy and bring honor and purpose to her death and leave a legacy worth mentioning is by forgiving Zachary for what he did," Smith wrote in an email to Patch. "Forgiveness doesn’t make murder OK, but it allows the healing process to begin."
Forgiveness probably won't come easily to those still battling feelings of anger and resentment, but any other conclusion will only lead to more pain, he said.
"A sin like this damages the way the victims and families think, the choices they make, and the way they feel," he said. "This is experienced by pain and dysfunction in their lives, which forces them to develop coping mechanisms (which lead to more sins and more pain and dysfunction) ... or to forgive, which leads to healing and peace."
Smith continues, "[God] lead me to not only forgive, but to love the man that murdered my mom. Remember, God loves Zachary the same way He loves the man that murdered my mom. When we let God into our lives, He helps us to see our enemies like He sees them: loved, cherished, valuable -- although sometimes hurt and lost. Hurting people hurt people, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love them or that we shouldn’t love them."
- from sister site Bonney Lake-Sumner Patch
- By Local Voices Blogger Dr. Mary Ballard
In Celebration and Memory of Amy Hanford Erwin - Facebook page