WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — It’s possible the person or people who fatally shot four members of the same family Sunday night didn’t set out intending to kill all of them, psychologist Stuart Bassman said Thursday. He believes the shocking crime, which left the city’s Sikh community stunned and a relative sobbing over the phone to 911, could have begun smaller — and then escalated as the murderer panicked.
Bassman is not involved in the investigation and spoke to WCPO on a purely speculative basis, drawing hypotheses from his 30 years of experience in mental health care. According to him, someone who has just committed an act as violent and irreversible as shooting another person can easily begin feel like the only way out is through.
“There’s a sense in one sense to undo it,” he said. “To undo it, to make sure there’s no witnesses, make sure there’s no connection so they can’t be found. In their mind, the cleanest way of doing this is wiping the slate clean. … Then the fear sets in.”
By Thursday, police had released body camera recordings of the scene but little new information about the quadruple homicide, which claimed the lives of Pamarjit Kaur, 62; Hakiakat Singh Panang, 59; Amarjit Kaur, 58; and Shalinderjit Kaur, 39.
In an earlier statement, officers said they did not believe the incident was a hate crime, that it was a random attack or that it represented a danger to other members of the surrounding community.
That only leaves a few possibilities, according to Bassman.
“It’s more common for the transgressor, the murderer to know the victims,” he said.
He added most violent acts emerge from one of the four Hs: Feelings of hate, helplessness, hopelessness or heinousness on the part of the perpetrator. They may be angry; they may be attempting to assert power; they may be funneling their feelings of sadness into harming others; they may feel like they have already done something so terrible that their remaining only option is to do worse.
Although police assured West Chester residents they are not in danger of an attack by the same person, Bassman said he understands why some might still feel anxious. Crimes like this and the Pike County massacre, which also claimed the lives of multiple family members in a single night, strike at the core of the security promised by concepts such as family and community.
“Any time there’s an attack on our homeland, it rattles our cages,” he said. “In a sense, it interrupts our ability to feel safe.”
That sense can be rebuilt, however. Communities can reassure one another of their strength, even after a shock.
“In a sense, (we need) to have an emotional seat belt, recognizing that we can only control our environment to some extent,” Bassman said. “Unfortunately, some tragedies like this, heinous crimes like you’ve described can and do happen. That’s why it’s important that as a community we come together.”