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Christmas Eve massacre was domestic

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By Don Whitehead

When I first heard that a man in a Santa suit had gone on a murderous rampage in Montrose, Calif. on Christmas Eve, I did not know the full story. The first news reports did not tell us that this was in fact a domestic violence situation.

The shooter, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, came to his wife's parent's home where his in-laws had gathered for a Christmas party. One of the children let him in and he opened fire on the crowd of 25 people. At least nine people died. He then set off a homemade device disguised as a Christmas present and sprayed racing fuel in the house, which he then set afire.

He suffered third-degree burns and shot himself in the head after driving 40 miles to his brother's house. Apparently he had planned to escape to Canada, but when he was burned so badly, decided to kill himself, too.

Pardo and his wife had been married for only two years, but she had already left him and filed for divorce. The two of them had been in court six days before the shooting, where Pardo asked for maintenance payments from his wife. He had lost his job and was in dire financial straits. Instead, the judge ordered Pardo to pay his wife spousal support.

Obviously, Pardo was unhappy. Just how unhappy became evident on Christmas Eve.

This killing has received nationwide publicity because of its unusual features: the number of people killed, the burning of the house and the Santa disguise. The fact that a husband killed his wife while they were going through a divorce is, unfortunately in itself, not that unusual. In Kentucky last year, 22 women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

Many of these deaths occurred when the victim was trying to get out of the relationship. Leaving is the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. Anyone wanting to leave needs to be very careful and plan for her own safety.

Most abusers never kill their victims, but a small percentage do. Is it possible to know beforehand which abuser will be a killer? No. There is no way to know for certain. I have had victims tell me, "I know he would never kill me." My question to them is, "How do you know?" The simple truth is that she cannot be absolutely certain. I doubt that Mrs. Pardo thought her husband was capable of killing her. If she had thought that, she would have taken more precautions.

While it is impossible to know for certain which abusers will kill, there are some warning signs. Three are particularly important. If he has ever threatened to kill the victim, stalked her or threatened her with a weapon the victim should be very careful. The presence of any one of these signs could signal a coming disaster.

Pardo was at the point where he had nothing to lose. He had lost his wife, his job and would soon lose his house. An abuser with nothing to lose is extremely dangerous.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and afraid for your life, get to a safe place as soon as possible. Call 911 or call Bethany House Abuse Shelter at (606) 679-8852 or (800) 755-2017. Do NOT tell your abuser you are leaving. Leave when he is not home or leave when the police or other protection is available. Domestic violence can be fatal. Be careful.

- Don Whitehead is a counselor at the Bethany House Abuse Shelter in Pulaski County. Contact him at (606) 679-1553 or bethanyhousedw@newwavecomm.net.