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Mental health, murder-suicide at center of domestic violence report
Coalition looks to lower rate of violent incidents
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Threats of suicide and other attempts at self-harm is a key finding in a 2016 Georgia review of domestic violence fatalities, when Hall County had three deaths.

The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence released the report last week, which offers findings and data on domestic violence. In 2016, there were 121 domestic-violence related deaths.

“Completed and attempted murder-suicide incidents accounted for 52 of those deaths,” Georgia Commission on Family Violence Executive Director Jennifer Thomas wrote in a news release announcing the report. “Knowing these incidents account for nearly half of all domestic violence-related deaths in our state, it is clear that our focus on this topic is necessary.”

In July 2016, Hall County Sheriff’s Office authorities said they believe Troy Phillips, 45, shot and killed his wife Heather, 42, before shooting himself in the Chicopee Village of Gainesville.

In March 2016, Donnie Jackson Irvin, 53, was accused of killing his live-in girlfriend, Mary Tonya Ward, 42. He was later sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.

Gateway Domestic Violence Center Executive Director Jessica Butler said the center asks victims about risk factors including previous threats of homicide and access to weapons.

“One of the things we always ask is if the abuser has threatened or attempted suicide in the past,” Butler said.

According to the report, the overlapping risks for suicide and domestic-violence homicide include depression, drug or alcohol abuse, change in relationships and serious health diagnoses.

“Perhaps the most important way to reduce domestic violence-related murder-suicides in our state is to address the needs of domestic violence perpetrators who have a co-occurring mental health issue,” according to the report.

In the reviewed murder-suicide cases, 30 percent of victims filed for a temporary protective order.

“Circumstances where the abuser is feeling additional losses like loss of health or loss of a job — that can also create an increased risk for that victim,” Butler said.