Police say murder-suicide stemmed from COVID-19 fears
Patrick Jesernik feared he and his girlfriend had caught the novel coronavirus when she began showing symptoms, including shortness of breath, that drove her to be tested last week, family members later told investigators in Will County, Illinois.
Before the results of the coronavirus test came back, police found Jesernik, 54, and 59-year-old Cheryl Schriefer lying in separate rooms, dead in what they called an apparent murder-suicide. A revolver with two spent casings and three live bullets lay near Jesernik’s body, police said. They lived in Lockport Township, Illinois, a suburb about 35 miles southwest of Chicago.
Illinois couple dead in murder-suicide after man feared they had coronavirus https://t.co/VX8eWfdfNU pic.twitter.com/F4M8g9Z6Gr
— New York Post (@nypost) April 7, 2020
Jesernik’s parents had not heard from the couple for a few days when an acquaintance called the police to ask for a welfare check, the Will County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
When deputies knocked on the door of the couple’s house no one answered. The doors and windows had been locked from the inside. The house was orderly and neat, with no sign of a struggle, the sheriff’s office said.
Family members met deputies at the home and told them about Jesernik’s coronavirus fears and Schriefer’s symptoms. They told police the results of Schriefer’s recent coronavirus test had not come back yet, the sheriff’s office said.
On Friday, the Will County Coroner’s Office determined Schriefer died in a homicide from a “shot in the back of the head at close range,” the sheriff’s office said. Jesernik died in a suicide, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the autopsy. Neither tested positive for the coronavirus.
Will County, which includes Lockport Township and the surrounding town of Joliet, Illinois, has experienced a sharp increase in coronavirus cases and deaths in the past week. Over the weekend, the number of deaths nearly doubled from 13 on Saturday to 22 by Monday afternoon. The virus has infected a police officer, a sheriff’s deputy and a nurse who works in the county jail, Patch.com reported. The county had 703 total cases on Monday afternoon.
The Will County Sheriff’s Office said the pandemic had increased calls for domestic violence and mental health crises.
“During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority of service calls that Deputies have been responding to, involve domestic disputes and crisis intervention calls,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement Saturday.
The sheriff’s office said the courthouse remains open for people seeking protective orders and asked victims of abuse to contact the agency’s social worker who specialized in domestic violence or call the local domestic violence hotline.
Those messages have been echoed around the United States, as calls for domestic violence and mental health issues have increased in some areas with public spaces closed, forcing people into close quarters.
Some hotlines for people suffering from anxiety and depression have reportedly received more calls, particularly in areas where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly like Maryland and Portland, Oregon, but the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline did not report an increase last week. (The phone number is 1-800-273-8255.)
Meanwhile, mental health experts have offered advice for people feeling unmoored by the loss of routines and contact with friends and family. They suggest developing a new routine, getting enough sleep, eating healthfully, staying hydrated, regularly exercising and soaking in some fresh air and sunlight every day.
As the virus has spread worldwide, domestic violence incidents have also increased in many countries, as The Washington Post’s Miriam Berger reported. The measures employed to tamp down the pandemic – staying inside and avoiding physical contact with people outside the home – also put abuse victims at a heightened risk, experts say.
Spikes in violence at home have led some foreign governments to suspend alcohol sales and set up resource centers in grocery stores, one of the few retail businesses still open in many nations.
In the United States, advocates are bracing for an increase in domestic violence incidents as quarantine and stay-at-home measures fall into place nationwide.
“We know that when there’s added stress in the home it can increase the frequency and severity of abuse,” Katie Ray-Jones, chief executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said last week. “We’re trying to prepare survivors for that.”
Domestic violence was widespread in the United States, long before the pandemic forced some people indoors with abusive partners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of “severe physical violence by an intimate partner.”
States issuing stay-at-home orders have made exceptions for victims of abuse and the police officers who need to respond to domestic violence calls.
“When cabin fever sets in, give it a week or two, people get tired of seeing each other and then you might have domestic violence,” Alex Villanueva, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, told the Associated Press.
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