Expert: Child killings not isolated incidents

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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YWCA community office: 360-696-0167.

Domestic violence hot line: 360-695-0501.

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In a month’s time, Tuan Dao went from reportedly throwing a clothes iron at his wife’s head to setting the fire that killed him and his five children.

Such a rapid escalation in violence seems implausible, but it is something that domestic violence victims’ advocates in this state have seen with increasing frequency the past 13 years.

From January 1997 to June 2010, there were 44 children killed in Washington state by parents who had committed domestic violence crimes, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The numbers are believed to be conservative because they do not include cases without a clear domestic violence link.

“You can’t ever make sense of something really horrible, but you can learn from it,” said Kelly Starr, the coalition’s communications coordinator. “We know these are not isolated incidents. We see them happening again and again.”

Many of the spouses whose children were killed did not call police or obtain a protective order. They simply did not know to whom they could turn in their time of need.

Lori Dao did receive a protective order following her husband’s March 30 arrest on suspicion of fourth-degree assault and reckless endangerment. Shortly thereafter, she and her eldest daughter, Alena, moved out of the couple’s home at 15304 N.E. 13th Circle. The relationship’s disintegration and a need for control likely fueled Tuan Dao’s anger, Starr said.

“When the abuser is suicidal, that increases the homicidal risk,” she said. “What we’ve learned is that it’s not necessarily on people’s radar when people are suicidal.”

But why hurt the children?

“Often the abuser uses the children to control the partner,” Starr said. “The worst way to hurt a partner is to hurt the children.”

Filicide, a term used to describe when a parent murders a child, is rare in Clark County, officials said. But domestic violence is not.

In 2010, some 1,350 people contacted the YWCA Clark County’s Safe Choice domestic violence program, according to director Debra Adams. More than 13,000 hot line calls were made.

“It’s a really serious problem for our community, but it’s not recognized and not spoken about,” Adams said, adding domestic violence victims are often too embarrassed or humiliated to report the abuse.

Abusers aren’t bred from a cookie cutter. But they often show warning signs, such as attempting to isolate their spouse from friends or showing excessive amounts of jealousy.

Tuan Dao worked at FedEx for 14 years. His neighbors described him as a “quiet” guy who played basketball at a local gym and brought his children to soccer and karate practice.

People who knew him described him as a happy person who enjoyed making others laugh. They would have never guessed he would harm his wife or children. That is often the case, though, Adams said.

“They work. They go to church. They participate in Boy Scouts and Little League. They’re extremely functional,” Adams said, in reference to domestic abusers.

“Heartbreaking” acts like the one Dao carried out against his children should serve as a community-wide wake-up call.

“Domestic violence is a really complex issue,” Starr said. “There isn’t one simple answer. It’s important to know each and every one of us can do something to end it.”