Palo Alto Daily
A FAMILY TRAGEDY
In wake of murder-suicide children need candid answers
By Emily Richmond
Palo Alto Daily News Staff (1997)
Palo Alto parents should provide their children with candid answers to questions about the apparent murder-suicide of a J.S. Stanford Middle School student and his parents, a grief counselor said yesterday. Susan Stone, who heads the trauma response unit of Family Service Mid-Peninsula, said parents should be prepared for their children’s grief and fear. “It’s normal for children to be scared and look to their parents for answers,” Stone told the Daily News. “Parents need to listen to their kids and validate their feelings. And parents shouldn’t be afraid to bring the subject up.”
The bodies of Elena Fedotova, 38, Vladimir Pokhilko, 44, and their son Peter Pokhilko, 12, were found inside their Ferne Avenue home Tuesday at about 3:30 p.m. Peter and his mother were stabbed to death and Pokhilko died after apparently slashing his own throat, police said yesterday.
“This type of tragedy makes us all rethink our own mortality, even if we didn’t personally know the people involved.” –Susan Stone
Outside the crime scene Tuesday, an 11-year-old boy asked a police officer if there was “lots of blood” inside the house. Stone said this is a typical reaction from younger children. “When children think of someone who’s dead, they’re usually scared of the blood,” said Stone. “Parents need to address those fears openly and honestly.” The first step, said Stone, is to put the event in context. “Parents need to emphasize that this is a really unusual event, and not something that should ever happen,” said Stone. “The children’s fears are likely increased because this is something so unfamiliar and involves a parent doing harm to their own child.”
Even older children and teenagers can have difficulty dealing with the shocking details, said Stone. “To a certain extent, older children are desensitized to media violence on television and in movies,” said Stone. But she said that Tuesday’s murder brought home the violence to youngsters. “(The) violence became real to some kids for whom it had never been real before. And there’s no way you can become desensitized to that,” said Stone. Police have their own debriefing programs and trauma counselors, said Stone, who frequently visits companies and work sites after an accidental death or suicide. Stone was called to Great America amusement park in Santa Clara two weeks ago following the death of a park visitor killed when he tried to retrieve his baseball cap from underneath a roller coaster. Grief counselors were on hand yesterday at JLS. Peter’s teachers and classmates recalled him as an excellent student and talented artist. His classmate Peter Stepanov said his friend enjoyed fishing, math, and taking his basset hound, Holmes, for walks. “Talking about a person and remembering them is an important part of the grief process,” said Stone. “It’s essential that people have an outlet for their feelings and someone to listen.”
Hotlines can help
Anyone needing help–not just parents and children–can call Family Service Mid-Peninsula’s hotlines, said Stone. “I imagine we’ll have more calls to the hotlines once the house is closed and police leave,” said Stone. “When the action settles down is usually when it begins to sink in.” Parents should watch their children for changes in sleeping or eating habits, excessive crying or sudden fears, such as a refusal to walk to school alone or sleeping with the lights on. Adults may also find themselves experiencing delayed reaction to the trauma, said Stone. “It’s normal for people to wake up one morning a few weeks from now feeling a little weepy.” said Stone.