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02/27/2012

Weapons Used by Juveniles and Adult Offenders in U.S. Parricide


Weapons Used by Juveniles and Adult Offenders in U.S. Parricide
Violence
Journal of Interpersonal
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0886260507305528
J Interpers Violence 2007 22: 1400
Kathleen M. Heide and Thomas A. Petee
Cases
Weapons Used by Juveniles and Adult Offenders in U.S. Parricide
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On behalf of:
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children
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Weapons Used by Juveniles
and Adult Offenders in
U.S. Parricide Cases
Kathleen M. Heide
University of South Florida
Thomas A. Petee
Auburn University
In recent decades, attention has focused on juveniles who kill their parents.
Research has indicated that increases in juvenile homicide have been associated
with the availability of firearms, but little is known about the weapons juveniles
use to kill their parents and whether their weapon usage is different from that of
adult children who kill their parents. This article uses Supplementary Homicide
Report data for the 24-year period 1976 to 1999 to investigate weapons selected
by parricide offenders to kill biological mothers and fathers. Significant differences
were found in the weapons used in matricide and patricide incidents
and in the weapons selected by juvenile and adult offenders. A comparison
with an earlier study by Heide revealed that weapon usage in parricide events
is stable. Differences found in both studies between weapons used to kill
parents and offender age are consistent with a physical strength hypothesis
proposed by Heide in 1993.
Keywords: parricide; matricide; patricide; juvenile homicide; guns; murder
Juvenile homicide has been a matter of heightened interest in the United
States since the early 1970s (Heide, 1986). The dramatic escalation in murders
committed by youths under 18 from 1984 to 1993 in particular provoked
widespread concern among politicians and the public alike (Heide, 1999). The
increase in killings perpetuated by juveniles during this period was directly
linked to their use of firearms, particularly handguns (Blumstein, 1995; Fox,
1996; Kennedy, 1997; Sickmund, Snyder, & Poe-Yamagata, 1997). In 1976,
59% of juvenile offenders used firearms to effect the murder. Approximately
15 years later, 78% selected firearms to kill their victims (Snyder &
Sickmund, 1995).
Beginning in the early 1980s, one type of homicide when committed
by juveniles has frequently garned headlines. The killing of parents, often
Journal of Interpersonal
Violence
Volume 22 Number 11
November 2007 1400-1414
� 2007 Sage Publications
10.1177/0886260507305528
hosted at
1400
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Heide, Petee / Weapons Used in Parricide Cases 1401
referred to as parricide (Ewing, 1997), has been the subject of hundreds of
journalistic and literary accounts when perpetrated by juvenile offspring
(see, e.g., Blais, 1985; Davis, 2003; Howard, 1994; Kleiman, 1988; Lang,
1995; Leyton, 1990; Linedecker, 1993; McGinnis, 1991; Morris, 1985;
Prendergast, 1983, 1986; Rosenthal, 1985; Tofexis, 1992; Walker, 1989).
Interestingly, despite the widespread interest in juvenile parricide
offenders, little is known about the weapons they use to kill their victims.
Most of the literature on youths who kill parents, consistent with the literature
on juvenile homicide offenders in general, has been limited to small
samples typically referred for clinical evaluation (Heide, 1992, 2003).
Researchers and clinicians have questioned the extent to which samples of
young killers referred to mental health professionals for assessment and
treatment are representative of the population of juvenile homicide offenders
(e.g., Benedek & Cornell, 1989; Cornell, 1989; Cornell, Benedek &
Benedek, 1987; Ewing, 1990; Heide, 1999; Rowley, Ewing, & Singer,
1987). Several investigators have also questioned the value of combining all
cases of juvenile homicide in the analysis without taking into account the type
of offense (Benedek & Cornell, 1989; Corder, Ball, Haizlip, Rollins, &
Beaumont, 1976; Cornell, 1989; Cornell, Benedek, & Benedek, 1989; Ewing,
1990; Heide, 1992, 1999; Rowley et al., 1987; Russell, 1965). Clinical case
data would suggest that juveniles who kill their parents differ in important
ways from children and adolescents who kill strangers and acquaintances
(Heide, 1992, 1999, 2003).
Detailed information about youths who kill parents in the United States
has been largely limited because publically available data do not permit
analysis of the phenomenon of parricide. The Uniform Crime Reports (UCR)
published annually provides descriptive data on victim and offender characteristics
(age, race, sex) and offense characteristics (circumstances, weapons).
The UCR reports data for all homicide victims and homicide offenders; it
does not break down this information by victim-offender relationship.
A few studies do exist that use national data to investigate patterns in different
types of homicides by youths under 18. Rowley et al. (1987) were the
first to use the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) database maintained
by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to explore the phenomenon
of juvenile homicide. Unlike the UCR, the SHR allows for analysis of
offender and offense characteristics within specific homicide types.
Rowley et al. (1987) analyzed 787 cases of juveniles arrested for murder in
1984 in which the relationship of the victim to the offender was known.
Significant differences were found depending on whether the juvenile killed a
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1402 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
stranger, an acquaintance, or a family member. These differences involved
the number of homicide offenders, the gender of the offender, and whether
the homicide occurred incidental to a theft. Their findings indicated that
controlling for the victim-offender relationship was important in analyzing
juvenile offenders arrested for murder.
Unfortunately, Rowley et al. (1987) did not examine weapon usage by
victim-offender relationship. However, the types of weapons used by parricide
offenders to kill parents and stepparents in single-victim, singleoffender
situations was investigated by Heide (1993b) in her analysis of
SHR data for the 10-year period 1977 to 1986. In this study, biological
parents were analyzed separately from stepparents. Significant differences
were found in the weapons used to kill male and female parents, the
weapons selected by juvenile and adult offenders to kill parents and stepparents,
and the weapons used by juvenile and adult offspring when killing
male as opposed to female parricide victims.
Shon and Targonski (2003) did a graphic analysis of parents and stepparents
murdered over the period 1976 through 1998 using SHR data. Unlike Heide�s
earlier analyses, they defined matricides as including the killings of both mothers
and stepmothers and patricides as including the murders of both fathers and
stepfathers. The combining of stepparents with biological parents potentially
confounds the data. As noted by Daly and Wilson (1988), stepparents do not
have the same relationship with their stepchildren as biological parents have
with their offspring. Indeed, Heide found differences between biological
parents and stepparents. At the time of the murder, stepparents tended to be
younger than biological parents. In addition, higher percentages of juveniles
were involved in the killings of stepfathers and stepmothers than in the homicides
of fathers and mothers, respectively (Heide, 1993a).
With these cautionary statements in mind, we report Shon and
Targonski�s findings. They note that firearms are responsible for �a bulk of
homicides� (p. 396) and that patricide victims are more likely to be killed
with handguns or long guns than matricide victims. While they make references
to age of the parricide offender, they do not systematically investigate
the relationship of offender age to weapon used to effect the killing.
In this article we use 24 years of SHR data to investigate weapons
selected by parricide offenders to kill biological mothers and fathers. In
light of the attention focusing on gun usage by juveniles, we are particularly
interested in the weapons selected by juveniles to kill mothers and fathers.
We compare findings from this study with Heide�s earlier study to assess
the stability of weapon usage in parricide incidents across time.
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Heide, Petee / Weapons Used in Parricide Cases 1403
Method
We used (unweighted) homicide data from the FBI�s SHR for the years
1976 through 1999 compiled into a data set by Fox (2001), which included
data on 452,965 victims and 500,946 offenders, representing approximately
92% of the estimated number of homicides occurring in the United States
during this time frame. The data were separated into two separate files�
one pertaining to the offender and the other to the victim. We utilized both
data sets because we were focusing on homicide incidents and were interested
in examining the nature and context of parricide offenses. For a more
expansive discussion of methodology, see Heide and Petee (in this issue).
We initially constructed our parricide victim and offender data sets by
using the victim-offender relationship variable in the SHR data set to select
homicide cases involving parents and children. We corrected for 68 obvious
cases of miscoding. Thereafter, we created a separate data set for all homicide
cases involving fathers and/or mothers as victims. Our final parricide
data sets consisted of 5,781 victims and 5,558 offenders.
The victim and offender databases that we constructed contained four types
of incidents: (1) single-victim, single-offender parricides; (2) multiple-victim,
single-offender parricides; (3) single-victim, multiple-offender parricides, and
(4) multiple-victim, multiple-offender parricides. The SHR data linked the
victim-offender relationship to the first victim killed. In parricide cases, the
overwhelming majority of parents slain were killed in single-victim, singleoffender
incidents. In our victim-based data set, 86% of the mothers and
fathers slain were killed in single-victim, single-offender incidents. The
remaining 14% (834 cases) were killed in multiple-victim situations. It is
possible that a subset of these cases involved nonparents. This would seem
particularly likely in the 2% of cases (n = 107) that involved three or more
victims. In our offender-based data set, 92% of offenders killed parents in
single-victim, single-offender incidents. The remaining 8% (446) of cases
involved multiple offender situations.
In multiple-victim and multiple-offender incidents, this linkage suggests
that caution be used in reporting findings. It is more accurate, for example, to
report the results in terms of incidents in which mothers were killed than to
tie it specifically to mothers killed. Accordingly, we describe findings in
terms of �victims who were killed in matricide incidents� or report correlates
of offenders �in matricide events� or �matricide incidents� to be on the
safe side. It would seem likely that the results obtained would be fairly
close to the true characteristics of both parricide victims and offenders,
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1404 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
given the very high representation of victims and offenders in single-victim,
single-offender incidents. However, we take a conservative approach to the
reporting of our results so that erroneous conclusions are reduced.
In previous analyses, Heide (1992, 1993a, 1993b) used only single-victim,
single-offender parricides to avoid this difficulty. In this article we have
included all parricidal incidents for two reasons. First, we were interested
in examining weapons used in all types of parricide cases, and we did not
want to exclude important subsets. Second, we were interested in seeing if
the patterns that Heide found with respect to weapon usage using singlevictim,
single-offender incidents would be similar to those encountered in
all types of parricidal incidents, including those involving multiple-victim
and multiple-offender situations.
Findings
Tables 1 through 3 use victim-based data to compare the ways that victims
died in events in which mothers and fathers were killed over the 24-
year period. Significant differences were found in the types of weapons
used. Of the 12 weapon categories listed in Table 1, victims in patricide
incidents were most likely to be killed by handguns (31%), whereas victims
in matricide events were most likely to be killed by knives (27%). Victims
in patricide cases were significantly more likely than victims in matricide
events to be killed by handguns (31% versus 23%), shotguns (18% versus
10%), and rifles (13% versus 11%). In contrast, victims in matricide events
were significantly more likely than victims in patricide incidents to be
killed by knives (27% versus 21%), blunt objects (12% versus 7%), personal
weapons (9% versus 6%), fire (3% versus 1%), strangulation (3%
versus 1%), asphyxiation (1% versus far less than 1%), and other (1% versus
far less than 1%).
When weapons used in incidents involving the killing of parents are collapsed
into firearms and other weapons used, the differences between the
ways in which victims in patricide and matricide incidents were slain are
very noticeable. As shown in Table 2, victims killed in patricide incidents
were significantly more likely than victims slain in matricide events to be
killed by firearms (64% versus 44%). Victims in matricide incidents were
significantly more likely than victims in patricide cases to be slain by other
weapons (56% versus 36%).
In Table 3, the ways in which victims were killed in parricide cases are
presented in two firearm categories (known handguns and other firearms)
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Heide, Petee / Weapons Used in Parricide Cases 1405
and an �other weapons� category. Long guns (rifles and shotguns) composed
96% of the other firearms category. Once again, the differences
found in the ways in which victims were killed in patricide and matricide
incidents were significant. Victims in incidents in which fathers were slain
were more likely than victims in incidents in which mothers were slain to
be killed by handguns (31% versus 23%) and other firearms (32% versus
22%). Victims in matricide cases, in contrast, were more likely than their
victims in patricide cases, to be killed by other weapons (56% versus 36%).
Table 1
Weapon by Parricide Victim Type, 1976�1999 (Victim-Based Data)
Father Mother Total
Weapon Type n % n % n %
Firearm 41 1.3 24 1 65 1.1
Handgun 973 31 571 22.7 1,544 27.3
Rifle 419 13.3 266 10.6 685 12.1
Shotgun 560 17.8 253 10 813 14.4
Other gun 0 0 2 0.1 2 0
Knife 649 20.7 676 26.8 1,325 23.4
Blunt object 234 7.4 297 11.8 531 9.4
Personal weapon 194 6.2 236 9.4 430 7.6
Fire 39 1.2 67 2.7 106 1.9
Strangulation 18 0.6 75 3 93 1.6
Asphyxiation 7 0.2 29 1.2 36 0.6
Othera 7 0.2 22 0.9 29 0.5
Note: Significant χ2 = 271.580, df = 11, p < .001.
a. Other includes poison, explosives, drugs, and drowning.
Table 2
Weapon Used (Firearm Versus Other Weapon) by Parricide Victim
Type 1976�1999 (Victim-Based Data)
Victim Type
Father Mother Total
Weapon Type n % n % n %
Firearm 1,993 63.5 1,116 44.3 3,109 54.9
Other weapon 1,148 36.5 1,402 55.7 2,550 45.1
Total 3,141 100 2,518 100 5,659 100
Note: Significant χ2 = 206.606, df = 1, p < .001.
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1406 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
The types of weapons used by juvenile and adults in incidents in which
parents were killed are shown in Tables 4 through 6 by victim type. Significant
differences in weapons used in patricide and matricide incidents were
Table 3
Weapon Used (Gun Type Versus Other Weapon) by Parricide
Victim Type 1976�1999 (Victim-Based Data)
Victim Type
Father Mother Total
Weapon Type n % n % n %
Handgun 973 31 571 22.7 1,544 27.3
Other firearm 1,020 32.5 545 21.6 1,565 27.7
Other weapon 1,148 36.5 1,402 55.7 2,550 45.1
Total 3,141 100 2,518 100 5,659 100
Note: Significant χ2 = 208.071, df = 2, p < .001.
Table 4
Weapons Used by Parricide Victim Type, 1976�1999
(Offender-Based Data)
Father as Victim Mother as Victim
Under 18 18+ Total Under 18 18+ Total
Weapon n % n % n % n % n % n %
Firearm 13 1.6 26 1.1 39 1.3 8 2 14 0.7 22 0.9
Handgun 258 32.7 690 30.2 948 30.8 117 29 408 20.9 525 22.3
Rifle 165 20.9 240 10.5 405 13.2 71 17.6 146 7.5 217 9.2
Shotgun 194 24.6 346 15.1 540 17.6 53 13.2 169 8.7 222 9.4
Other gun 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.2 1 0.1 2 0.1
Knife 105 13.3 522 22.8 627 20.4 89 22.1 559 28.7 648 27.5
Blunt object 27 3.4 217 9.5 244 7.9 30 7.4 255 13.1 285 12.1
Personal weapon 13 1.6 184 8 197 6.4 15 3.7 226 11.6 241 10.2
Fire 11 1.4 27 1.2 38 1.2 8 2 51 2.6 59 2.5
Strangulation 2 0.3 18 0.8 20 0.7 8 2 69 3.5 77 3.3
Asphyxiation 0 0 9 0.4 9 0.3 2 0.5 27 1.4 29 1.2
Othera 0 0 8 0.3 8 0.3 1 0.2 25 1.3 26 1.1
Total 788 100 2,287 100 3,075 100 403 100 1,950 100 2,353 100
Note: Significant Father χ2 = 180.216, df = 10, p < .001. Significant Mother χ2 = 103.936,
df = 11, p < .001.
a. Other includes poison, explosives, drugs, and drowning.
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Heide, Petee / Weapons Used in Parricide Cases 1407
found when the effects of age of the offender were controlled in the three
analyses using offender-based data.
In Table 4, twelve categories of weapons are examined, including five
related to firearms, six to other discrete methods, and an �other category� comprising
homicide by poison, explosives, drugs, and drowning. The differences
in methods used by juveniles differed significantly from those selected by
adults to kill in incidents in which fathers and mothers were killed.
Of particular note in Table 4 are the significant differences in nonfirearm
weapons selected by juveniles and adults in incidents in which parents were
killed. Adults were significantly more likely than juveniles to kill victims in
both patricide and matricide incidents using knives, blunt objects, personal
weapons, strangulation, asphyxiation, and other methods (poison, explosives,
drugs, and drowning). Adults were also significantly more likely than juveniles
to use fire to kill victims in incidents in which mothers were slain.
In Table 5, weapons used to kill in incidents involving parents are
dichotomized into firearm and other (nonfirearm) weapons and examined
by victim type, controlling for the effects of offender age. Juveniles were
significantly more likely than adults to choose firearms as opposed to other
weapons to kill victims in patricide incidents and in matricide incidents.
Specifically, 80% of juvenile offenders used firearms to kill victims in
patricide incidents as compared to 57% of adult offenders. With respect to
victims in matricide incidents, the comparable figures for juvenile and adult
offenders were 62% and 38%, respectively.
Table 5
Weapons Used (Firearm Versus Other Weapon) by Offender Age
by Parricide Victim Type, 1976�1999 (Offender-Based Data)
Offender Age
Under 18 18 and older Total
Parricide Weapon
Victim Type Type n % n % n %
Fathera Firearm 630 79.9 1,302 56.9 1,932 62.8
Other weapon 158 20.1 985 43.1 1,143 37.2
Total 788 100 2,287 100 3,075 100
Motherb Firearm 250 62 738 37.8 988 42
Other weapon 153 38 1,212 62.2 1,365 58
Total 403 100 1,950 100 2,353 100
a. Significant χ2 = 138.968, df = 1, p < .001.
b. Significant χ2 = 80.222, df = 1, p < .001.
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1408 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
Weapons used by offenders in parricide cases are examined using two
firearm types (handguns and other firearms) and other weapons within juvenile
and adult status groups in Table 6. Significant differences were found in
the types of weapons used by juveniles and adults to kill victims in both patricide
and matricide incidents. Juveniles, on the one hand, were noticeably
more likely than adult offenders to use other firearms (primarily shotguns and
rifles) to kill victims in cases in which fathers were killed (47% versus 27%).
Adults, on the other hand, were far more likely to use other weapons (43% versus
20%) in these types of parricidal situations. Juvenile offenders involved in
cases in which mothers were killed, relative to their adult counterparts, were
noticeably more likely to use handguns (29% versus 21%) and other firearms
(33% versus 17%). In contrast, adult offenders involved in matricide events
were significantly more likely than juvenile offenders who participated in
these events to use other weapons (62% versus 38%).
Summary, Conclusions, and Implications
for Further Study
Analysis of the FBI SHR data for the 24-year period 1976 to 1999
revealed significant gender differences in the ways in which victims were
Table 6
Weapons Used (Gun Type Versus Other Weapon) by Offender
Age by Parricide Victim Type, 1976�1999 (Offender-Based Data)
Offender Age
Under 18 18 and older Total
Parricide Weapon
Victim Type Type n % n % n %
Fathera Handgun 258 32.7 690 30.2 948 30.8
Other firearm 372 47.2 612 26.8 984 32
Other weapon 158 20.1 985 43.1 1,143 37.2
Total 788 100 2,287 100 3,075 100
Motherb Handgun 117 29 408 20.9 525 22.3
Other firearm 133 33 330 16.9 463 19.7
Other weapon 153 38 1,212 62.2 1,365 58
Total 403 100 1,950 100 2,353 100
a. Significant χ2 = 161.378, df = 2, p < .001.
b. Significant χ2 = 87.685, df = 2, p < .001.
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Heide, Petee / Weapons Used in Parricide Cases 1409
killed in patricide and matricide incidents when victim-based data were utilized.
Victims in incidents involving fathers were significantly more likely than
victims in incidents involving mothers to have been killed by firearms versus
other weapons. In addition, victims in patricide incidents, relative to victims in
matricide incidents, were significantly more likely to have been killed by handguns
and other firearms (primarily rifles and shotguns) than other weapons.
These results were consistent with differences found in types of weapons used
to kill fathers versus mothers in Heide�s earlier study (1993b).
Significant and important differences in weapons used by juveniles to kill
victims in patricide and matricide incidents were also found. The differences
that emerged in this study using offender-based data were also consistent with
results found in the earlier study (Heide, 1993b). Juveniles in both studies
were significantly more likely than their adult counterparts to use firearms
rather than other weapons to kill victims in patricide and matricide incidents.
In incidents in which fathers were killed, 80% of juveniles in the present
study, compared to 82% in the earlier study, used firearms as opposed to other
weapons. In contrast, 57% of adult offenders involved in patricidal incidents
in the present study, compared to 60% in the earlier study, used firearms. In
incidents in which mothers were killed, 62% of juveniles in the present study,
compared to 65% in the earlier study, used firearms as opposed to other
weapons. In contrast, 38% of adult offenders in matricidal incidents in the
present study, compared to 34% in the earlier study, used firearms.
Differences in specific type of firearms used by juveniles and adults in
incidents in which fathers and mothers were killed were also significant
across the two studies, using offender-based data. Juveniles were significantly
more likely to use other firearms (primarily shotguns and rifles) than
adults in patricide and matricide events across the two studies. In patricide
incidents, 47% of juveniles in the present study and 53% in the earlier study
used shotguns or rifles, compared to 27% of adult offenders in the present
study and 29% of adult offenders in the earlier study. In matricide incidents,
33% of juveniles in the present study and 38% in the earlier study used
shotguns or rifles, compared to 17% of adult offenders in the present study
and 16% of adult offenders in the earlier study.
The Physical Strength Hypothesis
The stability of the findings across both studies provides increased support
for the physical strength hypothesis proposed by Heide (1993b) to
account for the age and gender differences found in relation to weapons
used to kill parents. Adults are typically physically stronger than juveniles,
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1410 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
and males, on the average, are depicted as physically stronger than
females. In light of these assumptions, the greatest disparity in physical
strength would seem to occur when juveniles kill fathers. Accordingly,
juveniles in patricide incidents would have the greatest need to use
firearms to effect the killing of fathers. On the other extreme, adults
would be expected to be even more capable of physically overcoming
their mothers than their fathers and would not need to resort to firearms
to complete the homicidal act. The findings in both studies (present and
earlier) are completely consistent with the age and gender predictions.
The percentage of parents slain by firearms is highest when juveniles kill
their fathers (80% and 82%), followed by juveniles killing their mothers
(60% and 65%), followed by adults killing their fathers (57% and 60%),
and finally by adults killing their mothers (38% and 34%).
Weapons Usage by Juveniles and Adults in Homicide Cases
Analysis of weapon usage across all homicide cases during this 24-year
period revealed some interesting findings. Juveniles were significantly more
likely than adults to use firearms to kill their victims. Specifically, in the
340,092 cases in which age of the offender and weapon used was known, 69%
of juveniles used firearms to murder their victims versus 64% of adult offenders
(chi-square = 334.47, p < .01). When the effects of gender of the victim
were controlled, some expected findings emerged in the 339,972 cases for
which data were available. Juveniles were significantly more likely than adult
offenders to use firearms to kill male victims (72% versus 67%; chi-square =
322.99, p < .01; n = 264,083). Juveniles were significantly less likely than their
older counterparts, however, to use firearms to kill female victims (52% versus
54%; chi-square = 17.24, p < .01; n = 75,889).
Comparison of the weapons used by juveniles and adults to kill in homicide
versus parricide cases reveals some fascinating differences that support
the physical strength hypothesis with respect to juvenile offenders and
reveal an interesting twist between adult and juvenile offenders. Juveniles
are more likely than adults to use firearms in parricide cases relative to all
homicide cases when gender of the victim is kept constant. Specifically,
juveniles used firearms in 80% of patricide cases and 73% of cases in which
the victim was male. Young killers selected guns to kill in 62% of matricide
cases and in 52% of homicides in which the victim was female. Stated
another way, juvenile murderers used firearms to kill 80% of fathers, 73%
of male victims, 62% of mothers, and 52% of female victims.
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Heide, Petee / Weapons Used in Parricide Cases 1411
In stark contrast, adult offenders were more likely to use firearms in
homicide cases in general than in parricide cases. Adult offenders used
firearms to kill 67% of male victims, 57% of fathers, 54% of female victims,
and 38% of mothers.
The finding that higher percentages of juvenile offenders relative to adult
offenders are more likely to use firearms to kill mothers and fathers than male
and female victims in general is not readily apparent. Do more juveniles use
guns to kill parents than other homicide victims, when gender of the victim
is held constant, because it is emotionally easier to dispatch a parent with a
gun than through other more personal methods? If that is the case, then we
would expect to find juveniles using rifles and shotguns more than handguns
in parricide cases than in homicide cases in general because long guns facilitate
killing at a distance in an emotional as well as a physical sense. Analyses
of firearms in two categories (handguns versus other firearms) by offender
age controlling for victim gender provides some support for this explanation.
Juveniles used other firearms (again, primarily rifles and shotguns) to kill
18% of males in homicide cases compared to 47% of victims in patricide
cases. They used other firearms to kill 16% of females in homicide cases
compared to 33% of victims in matricide cases. In contrast, the differences in
the use of other firearms by adults in homicide and parricide cases was far
smaller than in cases involving juvenile offenders. The respective figures for
adult offenders was 16% in homicide cases involving male victims compared
to 27% in patricide events. In homicide cases involving female victims, the
percentage of adult offenders who used rifles and shotguns was 14% in all
homicide cases compared to 17% in matricide incidents.
The less frequent use of firearms by adults in parricide cases suggests
adult parricide offenders kill more frequently in close proximity to their
parents than their juvenile counterparts. Do adults select methods other
than firearms more often than juveniles to kill parents because they are
more emotionally tangled with the victim? The literature suggests that adult
parricide offenders are more likely to be severely mentally ill than adolescent
parricide offenders (Heide, 1992; Hillbrand, Alexandre, Young, &
Spitz, 1999; Newhill, 1991; Weisman & Sharma, 1997). Could weapons
selected by adult offenders to kill their parents be influenced by their
mental status at the time of the crime? These types of questions cannot be
answered with the existing data collected by the FBI.
Conclusions and Implications
The comparison of the findings in the present study with those from the
earlier study indicates that the phenomenon of parricide in the United States
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1412 Journal of Interpersonal Violence
is amazingly stable, as it relates to weapons used, as well as characteristics of
parricide offenders, victims, and offenses (Heide & Petee, in this issue). The
patterns observed with respect to weapon usage in single-victim, singleoffender
parricides in the earlier study remained when multiple-victim and
multiple-offender parricides were included in the analyses in the present
study. The consistency is not surprising for two reasons. First, almost 9 out
of 10 parents are killed in single-victim, single-offender incidents. Second,
in multiple-victim incidents, it is likely that the offender or offenders will
use the same method to kill two or more victims.
The relationship between offender age and weapon used is indeed noteworthy.
The stability of these findings suggests that the number of parents,
especially fathers, slain by juveniles could be reduced if access to firearms,
particularly rifles and shotguns, was severely restricted. Clearly, more information
is needed to launch a successful effort to prevent parricides. The SHR
database provides very limited information about the circumstances behind
the homicides in the U.S. For example, in the case of firearms, where did the
weapons come from? Was the gun, rifle, or shotgun readily available in the
home? How did the juvenile obtain access? Were fathers killed with guns
because the parricide offender was under threat of attack? The FBI needs to
consider adding self-defense or perceived self-defense to its categories of
defense. Expanding the data collected relative to weapons and motive would
likely shed more light on the events leading up to the killing of parents, which
could help in designing more effective prevention strategies.
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Kathleen M. Heide, PhD, is professor of criminology at the University of South Florida,
Tampa. Her extensive publication record includes two widely acclaimed books on juvenile
homicide, Why Kids Kill Parents: Child Abuse and Adolescent Homicide and Young Killers:
The Challenge of Juvenile Homicide, and the recently released book (coauthored with Linda
Merz-Perez): Animal Cruelty: Pathway to Violence Against People. She is a licensed mental
health counselor and a court-appointed expert in matters relating to homicide, and children and
families. Professor Heide is a frequent consultant to the national print and electronic media
and numerous international newspapers and magazines.
Thomas A. Petee, PhD, is professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Auburn
University. He is also currently coeditor of the journal Homicide Studies. He has more than 40
publications in journals such as Criminology, Sociological Inquiry, and Criminal Justice and
Behavior. His current research interests include the routine activities elements of violent crime
and determining what factors are associated with lethal outcomes in violent encounters.
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