A 15-year-old boy fatally shot himself and three of his multiple siblings after they were left at home alone, Alaska State Troopers reported Wednesday.
A release from the Alaska Department of Public Safety said the suspected murder-suicide was discovered at a home in the Skyridge Drive Subdivision in Fairbanks after Alaska State Troopers received reports about shots being fired there at 4:17 p.m.
Authorities found three children who were uninjured in the home while four others were dead from apparent gunshot wounds.
“Investigation revealed a 15-year-old male shot the three siblings and then shot himself,” the release said. “He was found deceased with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
The ages of the murdered siblings are 5, 8, and 17, NBC affiliate KTUU reported, while the three uninjured siblings are all younger than 7.
Tim DeSpain, a spokesperson for the Alaska State Troopers, told The Associated Press that the weapon used in the killings was a “family gun but beyond that, it’s all still part of the ongoing investigation.”
While the motive for the murder-suicide remains under investigation, a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics in April said Alaska was among 14 states where collective evidence showed an overall increase in suicides during the pandemic.
“Proportion of suicides among adolescents has shifted markedly and heterogeneously across the 14 participating states,” researchers said. “Although previous studies reported that suicide-related deaths in the broader population decreased during the pandemic, we found that adolescents have not experienced the same patterns as adults in the participating 14 states in the same period.”
Along with Alaska, the other states included in the study which feature data from 2015 to 2020 are: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia and Vermont.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also noted that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. Among high school students, 20% have reported having serious thoughts of suicide while 9% have made a suicide attempt.
According to Dr. Carl Fleisher of UCLA Health, what makes adolescents so vulnerable to mental health challenges is “where they stand socially and where they stand developmentally.”
“Teenagers and young adults have the highest rates of suicide compared to other ages,” Fleisher noted in a UCLA Health report earlier this year. “The things that make them vulnerable are where they stand socially and where they stand developmentally.”
He explained that for adolescents, their judgment and decision-making abilities are still developing and won’t be fully developed until their mid-20s.
"They're not going to weigh risks and consequences or values in quite the same way that older folks will.”
Teenagers also tend to have less social support than adults do and the isolation from the pandemic made their social disconnection even worse.
Adults, says Dr. Fleisher, can help teenagers by proactively checking in on them “not because they look like they’re struggling, but because they look like they’re OK.”
“What doesn’t seem to increase risk of suicide is talking about the importance of mental health, talking about the importance of reaching out to people who are struggling,” he said. “Or if you’re struggling, reaching out for help.”