Why Aren’t News Stories About “The Hurricane Killer” Calling It Domestic Violence?

While reading news reports this weekend about the hurricane that swept the East Coast, the phrase “the Hurricane Killer” caught my eye. With a moniker like that, I imagined some Jack The Ripper-esque figure killing people who were stuck in their flooded homes during or after Irene. But reading just one news story about Leonard John Egland, 37, who killed four people this weekend, I learned he wasn’t some random murderer at all but someone who knew his victims. Leonard John Egland killed his ex-wife, Carrie Egland, 36, of Chester, VA; her boyfriend, her boyfriend’s son, and his ex-mother-in-law, Barbara Ruehl, 66, of Doylestown, PA. That’s not a random act of violence; that’s domestic violence. Why, then, does news report after news report simply say “four people” were killed instead of acknowledging the specific nature of the crime? I checked several news stories and each one reported the Hurricane Killer the same way: as if he were some random killer. USA Today didn’t mention the words “domestic violence,” “intimate partner violence,” or “domestic abuse”; neither did the Associated Press or the Philadelphia Inquirer. It boggles my mind that those words weren’t used anywhere in those articles, let alone in the headline.

Egland led police on a manhunt — supposedly hiding in people’s backyards — and fired at two officers, injuring them. People in parts of Bucks Country, Pennsylvania, were told to stay indoors until he was caught. I don’t disagree with those directives; that’s not what I’m criticizing. I’m criticizing the fact that the only people Egland killed were people he knew — not people at random — and yet news stories are reporting this like he was some sort of serial killer. Domestic violence needs to be labeled for what it is so people are aware of its pervasiveness. The Department of Justice has the facts: a woman is most likely to be injured a killed by someone she knows, not a stranger. According to the web site of the Domestic Violence Resource Center, one in four women will be a victim of intimate partner violence in her lifetime and on average, more than three women and one man are killed by an intimate partner each day. That’s why semantics are important.

It’s terribly sad that four innocent people lost their lives this weekend, including a young boy. It’s also distressing that Egland had just returned from his third deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan and may have needed a better support system in his life. (We will likely never know exactly what his problems were, because he committed suicide yesterday.)

But as we mourn the tragedy of this situation, let’s not forget to call it what it was: intimate partner violence.

[Domestic Violence Resource Center: DV Statistics]
[PBS: No Safe Place: Violence Against Women]
[USA Today]
[Philadelphia Inquirer]