VI. Survivors of Homicide Victims
Homicide is a crime with
more than one victim. Nothing can ever prepare survivors for the day they
are suddenly told their loved one has been murdered. Survivors suffer
the shock of the sudden loss of their loved one and anger that the loved
one did not have to die. Murder crushes survivors' trust in the world
and their belief in social order and justice.
Many survivors of homicide victims
say that the most traumatic event of their lives was when they were notified
of the death. One of the most difficult duties a law enforcement officer
must perform is providing notification to the family of murdered victims.
An inappropriate notification can prolong survivors' grieving process
and delay their recovery from the crime for years. Proper notification
by you can restore some of the survivors' trust and beliefs and help them
to begin a new life.
Tips for Responding to Survivors of Homicide Victims
- Know the details surrounding the homicide victim's
death before notification. Survivors often want to know the exact circumstances
of their loved one's death.
- Have confirming evidence of the homicide victim's
identity in the event of denial by the survivors. Be sensitive to the
possibility that the victim may have been leading a life unknown to
the survivors, such as involvement in drugs, extramarital affairs, or
- Know as much as possible about the homicide victim's
survivors before notification. Notify the appropriate closest survivor
- Make notifications in person.
- Conduct notifications in pairs. You can contact local
volunteers who are specially trained in death notification through your
local clergy or crisis intervention agency. Also, the National Organization
for Victim Assistance (800-879-6682) may be able to refer you to volunteers
in your area.
- Do not bring personal articles of the homicide victim
with you to the notification.
- Conduct the notification in a private place after you
and the survivors are seated.
- Avoid engaging in small talk upon your arrival. Do
not build up slowly to the reason for your visit or to the actual announcement
of the death of the survivor's loved one. Finally, do not use any euphemisms
for the death of the loved one, such as She passed away,
We lost her, She expired, or She left
us. Be compassionately direct and unambiguous in giving notification
to survivors. For example: We've come to tell you something very
terrible. Your daughter has been killed in a carjacking. I'm so sorry.
- Ask survivors whether they would like you to contact
a family member or friend.
- Have one person take the lead in conducting the notification.
The other person should monitor survivors for reactions dangerous to
themselves or others.
- Accept survivors' reactionsno matter how intense
or stoicin a nonjudgmental, empathetic manner. Survivors may cry
hysterically, scream, collapse, sit quietly, or go into shock.
- Be prepared for survivors' possible hostility toward
you as a representative of law enforcement and avoid responding impolitely
- Show empathy for survivors' pain and suffering, but
do not say I understand when clearly no one can.
- Refer to the homicide victim by name out of respect
to the victim and survivors. Do not use terms like the deceased
or the victim.
- Listen to survivors and answer all of their questions.
- Make telephone calls to other survivors of the homicide
victim at the request of the immediate survivors. If possible, make
arrangements for someone to be with these survivors before they receive
your telephone notification. If this is not possible, ask the survivors
to sit down once you've contacted them before you make the notification.
Ask for permission to call a neighbor, a friend, or a crisis intervention
counselor to be with the survivors after the notification. Tell each
person you contacted the names of others who have been notified.
- Show respect for survivors' personal and religious
or nonreligious understandings of death. Do not impose your personal
beliefs about death on survivors by saying of the victim, for example,
She's in a better place now.
- Explain to survivors that everyone grieves differently.
Encourage them to be understanding and supportive of one another.
- Before leaving survivors, make sure that someone can
stay with them and that they have contacts for support services.