Monday, October 5, 2009

The Evacuation of Hope

By Susan Murphy Milano

I was a shaken as I read the news headline last week “Domestic Violence leads to yet another death Anne Morell Petrillo. Forget for a moment that this 38 year-old woman whom committed suicide was the daughter of heiress to the Scripps newspaper fortune.

In January of 1993, the then 22 year-old Anne found her mother Anne Scripps Douglas', 47, beaten and unconscious in the master bedroom of her New York home. Her mother never regained consciousness and died in the hospital a few days later. Anne’s step-father, a suspect, was not formally charged at the time for beating his wife to death with a hammer. He eventually committed suicide 3-months later jumping to his death from the exact same place that Anne Morell Petrillo chose to end her life.

In 1989, 5 years earlier, in Chicago, Roberta Murphy, also 47 years of age, would be discovered by her daughter, on the kitchen floor, dead with a bullet to the head. Philip Murphy a decorated violent crimes detective was in the bedroom dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

The question is, years after her mother’s murder why did Anne Morell Petrillo take her own life? Unfortunately, I know the answer.

The world expects surviving family members of homicide victims to transition the all consuming pain of loss into one of “getting on” or getting over the grief.” When a loved one dies under tragic circumstances the human mind plays the game of “if only I had gotten to the aid of that person” I could have saved them from being killed. If only I did not go out with my friends or not stopped for gas I could have somehow prevented the tragedy. A crime victim plays out the day, hour and moment leading up where the hands on the clock stopped moving to when they received the news or discovered the bloody body as if they were watching their lives while glued to a chair playing on a movie screen. The tragedy is paralyzing.

There are those who seemingly move past the grief like John Walsh whose son Adam was abducted and killed, Marc Klaas whose daughter Polly was sexually assaulted and murdered. But the truth is, they have not, instead each man has bravely channeled their energies to implement laws and hold the legal system accountable for those who prey on innocent and helpless children. Their “purpose driven life” is what allowed them to keep the grief and pain manageable, moving forward to help others.

As a society, there simply is no embrace in the aftermath of tragedy. Society dictates we all move on and as much as we try it is not possible to accomplish. Long after the lines of friends and family surround us in our darkest hour before our loved one is laid to rest, we as homicide victims are forced to proceed with our lives. Promises of remaining in contact by friends and family vanish when we attempt to talk about the tragedy or how much we miss the person. We are not invited out to dinner, nor called to see how we are doing. Instead, the survivor is pointed towards or referred to those in the mental health profession for guidance to assist them with the pain, because they too, those who knew us best prior to the tragedy, do not want to be reminded.

Twenty years have passed since the murder of my mother and suicide of my father. For me and thousands of others, each day is a constant struggle to find the hope and light that fuels our very existence.

Anne Morell Petrillo did not opt out of life because it was easy. She took her own life because society, those who initially surrounded and loved her, evacuated, taking with them the hope and light that she so desperately needed to survive.


  1. Thank you for giving a unique insight into a world quick to place blame on those whose pain lives without light. The post is excellent.

  2. Your story reminds me of another one, "The Good Samaritan" When Jesus told the story, he told it to point out to the teacher of the law that he had *not* loved his neighbor as himself, as he had just claimed. Jesus is showing him how far he had fallen short by not showing mercy to others as the Good Samaritan did in the story.
    Your story reminds us of this message. We are to love our brother's as ourselves.
    Your story also makes me wonder what led the Good Samaritan to be so good? Maybe he too had something in his past that drove him to be thankful for all God gave him leading him to show mercy to the robbed man.
    ACTIONS that's what God wants.
    The Lord bless you with his Peace, thank you for all you do to help others.

  3. Suicide is NEVER the answer,
    getting help is the answer.

    If you are suicidal, have attempted suicide,
    or are a suicide survivor,
    you will find help, hope, comfort, understanding,
    support, love, and extensive resources here.

    I Love You.

    And I will never stop fighting for you,

    Kevin Caruso
    Founder, Executive Director, Editor-in-Chief
    Senior Writer, Forum Administrator

  4. My sister was murdered in 1991 by her husband the hole feels deeper with the years at holidays no one brings up her name they don't want to be reminded because it hurts. Maybe if people talk about death and move past the huge unexplainable void it would be comfort. Your post brings understanding to me. I think I'll put a copy of what you wrote when I send out my christmas cards this year and at the bottom write "I MISS MY SISTER CONNIE"

  5. Susan is an amazing example of God's grace and strength. I aspire to one day have enough courage to help others. May God continue to keep you safe, bless you.

  6. I can see you still see you standing at Bobbie's wake holding your sister and grandma and everyone else who tugged at your dress wanting to hug and say how sorry we all were for your loss. What you are doing is remarkable after all these years. The women you have helped and the work has continued long after Bobbie's death that says so much about you and your love for your mom.

    Bobbie would be so proud of you and someplace she is smiling on you now.

    There is no excuse why I didn't keep it contact or any of your moms close group of friends we
    were comfortable is all I guess. The first year we tried to have our monthly get togethers but it was too sad and empty without having Bobbie there to feed us when we were not hungry or watch her laugh at herself over something silly.

    I still live in same house in Niles and I am listed in directory assistance. Give me acall when you have a moment so we can reconnect.

    Mary Martin


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