Thursday, October 8, 2009


I welcome a guest post today, Susan Murphy Milano. Susan is a violence expert, safety consultant, the daughter and survivor of murder-suicide, author of "Defending Our Lives, getting away from domestic violence & staying safe and "Moving Out, Moving On" when a relationship goes wrong. And her new book out in 2010,"Time's Up" how to leave and survive a dangerous relationship ,offers detailed practical information.
This article of Susan's is an accurate representation of life as a surviving victim of homicide.

The Evacuation of Hope
By Susan Murphy Milano

I was a shaken as I read the news headline last week “Domestic Violence leads to yet another death Anne Morell Petrillo. Forget for a moment that this 38 year-old woman whom committed suicide was the daughter of heiress to the Scripps newspaper fortune.

In January of 1993, the then 22 year-old Anne found her mother Anne Scripps Douglas', 47, beaten and unconscious in the master bedroom of her New York home. Her mother never regained consciousness and died in the hospital a few days later. Anne’s step-father, a suspect, was not formally charged at the time for beating his wife to death with a hammer. He eventually committed suicide 3-months later jumping to his death from the exact same place that Anne Morell Petrillo chose to end her life.

In 1989, 5 years earlier, in Chicago, Roberta Murphy, also 47 years of age, would be discovered by her daughter, on the kitchen floor, dead with a bullet to the head. Philip Murphy a decorated violent crimes detective was in the bedroom dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

The question is, years after her mother’s murder why did Anne Morell Petrillo take her own life? Unfortunately, I know the answer.

The world expects surviving family members of homicide victims to transition the all consuming pain of loss into one of “getting on” or getting over the grief.” When a loved one dies under tragic circumstances the human mind plays the game of “if only I had gotten to the aid of that person” I could have saved them from being killed. If only I did not go out with my friends or not stopped for gas I could have somehow prevented the tragedy. A crime victim plays out the day, hour and moment leading up where the hands on the clock stopped moving to when they received the news or discovered the bloody body as if they were watching their lives while glued to a chair playing on a movie screen. The tragedy is paralyzing.

There are those who seemingly move past the grief like John Walsh whose son Adam was abducted and killed, Marc Klaas whose daughter Polly was sexually assaulted and murdered. But the truth is, they have not, instead each man has bravely channeled their energies to implement laws and hold the legal system accountable for those who prey on innocent and helpless children. Their “purpose driven life” is what allowed them to keep the grief and pain manageable, moving forward to help others.

As a society, there simply is no embrace in the aftermath of tragedy. Society dictates we all move on and as much as we try it is not possible to accomplish. Long after the lines of friends and family surround us in our darkest hour before our loved one is laid to rest, we as homicide victims are forced to proceed with our lives. Promises of remaining in contact by friends and family vanish when we attempt to talk about the tragedy or how much we miss the person. We are not invited out to dinner, nor called to see how we are doing. Instead, the survivor is pointed towards or referred to those in the mental health profession for guidance to assist them with the pain, because they too, those who knew us best prior to the tragedy, do not want to be reminded.

Twenty years have passed since the murder of my mother and suicide of my father. For me and thousands of others, each day is a constant struggle to find the hope and light that fuels our very existence.

Anne Morell Petrillo did not opt out of life because it was easy. She took her own life because society, those who initially surrounded and loved her, evacuated, taking with them the hope and light that she so desperately needed to survive.

Posted by Susan Murphy Milano on "Time's Up"

For more information or to get help, please call:
All calls are anonymous and confidential.
For information on “Making a safety plan” go to website: or visit The National Domestic Violence Hotline website:
Keep in mind, all computer (and cell phone) use can be monitored; use a computer away from home!


  1. Victoria - As I've mentioned to you, I have a neighbor who watched her mother shoot & kill her father 50 years ago - when she (my neighbor) was 5. The mother could no longer put up with the abuse she received at the hands of this man, and chose prison over that life. Her 9 children, including my neighbor, were dispersed throughout the family; most of the siblings did not see each other again until they were adults. Many were abused by relatives they were placed with - all grew up to be extremely troubled adults. ALL have served time in prison, including my neighbor, who drifted into gangs and eventually committed murder herself - in self defense, but murder nonetheless; she was released from prison after just a short stay. These adults have raised children who are also all troubled, and who think nothing of serving time in prison - the men especially, and espeically for crimes against women. The women are drawn to men who are bad - some are physically abusive, but all are useless, expecting these women to support them. Which the women, suffering from incredibly low self-esteem, do. The women have many babies by many different men, are not married, receive no child support, etc., etc., etc.

    It is horrible. In addition, it is hard for me and other neighbors to deal with her/them. It is unpleasant, there is always a drama - it is more than we can bear, they are intent upon drawing us into their dramas, so we stay away. There was a time I felt guilty about that, but I've passed that point - I can't fix her past and she has no interest in doing so herself.

    I guess I tell this story to point out that even when a woman fights back - as she should - there are still consequences . New stories begin in the lives of the remaining family members, and it seems to be something that will be passed on forever. It is heartbreaking.

    Take care, and thank you Susan.

  2. Interesting post. I enjoyed it.

  3. The story shared is about unbearable isolation; it does often lead to low self-esteem, but mostly the story is requesting we all stand together to support the survivors of homicide. Grief and isolation is an unbearable load to carry; imagine, just imagine, how your hope and aspirations would be stolen from you when left alone with so many unanswered questions, so much suffering and no one standing there to wrap their arms around you, to say to you, I may not understand fully, but I am here for as long as you need me to be. We are all lost without that, IMAGINE, how lost you could become finding yourself alone as a surviving victim of homicide. Imagine how ostracized you would feel and how strangely you may behave to cope. What is heartbreaking is when one human cannot sympathize with another human, or will not make the advance to ease another's pain, even if for one moment. I printed this story told by Susan, because it is my story, I live it everyday. Thanks. --V

  4. It is hard for me to imagine the desertion of friends and family in such a situation - I see the results daily with my neighbor and it is heartbreaking. Because these children were thrown to the winds when they were so young and going through such grief and loss, because they were at the mercy of others, they now lead sad, sad lives, and it is impossible to deal with them as adults. Truly impossible. I hate to say that is too late for anything, but the reality is that is too late for them. Even more heartbreaking.

    I cannot imagine - I truly cannot - being in this situation. I can sympathize and be there - in another instance I had an employee whose mother & stepfather were murdered by the kid next door and in that instance, it was easy to be there for her (my employee). It was easy to help in whatever way possible. In the case of my neighbor, it is impossible - 50 years have passed, and she is still in denial of so much that happened, and wants no sympathy. Her life as she leads it is too exhausting to become a part of. I must take care of myself first.

    Again - great article.


  5. I'm glad you stopped by Debi, because it's not too late for me...and I need lots of support. Thanks!

  6. All of them dead, all of them... the wife, the husband and the child. It just goes to show children of domestic violence can live with a virus that wakes with a viciously cruel thirst which saps and strains hope.

    I appreciate that you said she didn't take the easy way out. I also appreciate that their economic status was mentioned. Domestic violence doesn't know money or race.... or mercy. This is so sad to hear.

  7. I'm so glad you found my blog so I could find yours. There are a few resource links in this article that are useful to me. Thanks for those too.

  8. I'm happy the resources were helpful, the more available they are the better for all. Thank you.

  9. The stories that are told are someone's reality, we need to always remember that fact. We all need to know that maybe we haven't personally lived through tragedies such as these, but someone we know probably has. Victoria says it best describing the isolation, the losing friends and family members that expect you to "move on." There is never a moving on, time may soften it, but it's there forever.

    I think because of the fact that there are no support groups, therapies, and attention given to the survivors, they can go down so many paths. Like the above comment, generations go bad!

    Surviving victims of trauma are victimized over and over with not only memories, but the court system which drags justice out, and even with justice, there are always the haunting memories.

    Thank you, Victoria, for your blog, and please know that there are many who care, many who are also suffering, but willing to come together for support.


  10. With teary eyes I can relate only from the point of a teenage daughter who watched her 35 year old father kill himself inadvertantly with drugs and alcohol. It was enough. I've often said I think I need professional help for the years and years of pain layered over that upbringing. I'll be buying this book and thanks, Victoria, for your saving grace. If ever, EVER, EVER you need me, please call. I'll be sending my #. Blessings of strength, joy and peace on you and all reading and in need...Connie

  11. This was a hard post to read because the truth in it is so painful. While I've never lost anyone to this type of tragedy, I know what it feels like to lose someone you love.

    I thank Susan for sharing this story and you for helping her. Her story makes me stop and think about how I relate to people who have experienced such horrendous tragedies. I hope I will be more patient and recognize that this grief has no time clock.