A Pennsylvania man “extremely upset” about losing his job amidst the coronavirus pandemic allegedly shot his girlfriend, before turning the gun on himself in an attempted murder-suicide, authorities said Wednesday.
The Wilson Borough Police Department said in a statement to The Daily Beast that Roderick Bliss IV, 38, attempted to fatally shoot his girlfriend with a semi-automatic pistol on Monday afternoon, before dying by suicide, after he “had become increasingly upset over the COVID-19 pandemic.” The 43-year-old girlfriend, who was shot once in the back, survived the attack and is in St. Luke’s hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
“In the days prior to the shooting, Bliss had become increasingly upset over the COVID-19 pandemic,” police said. “Minutes before the shooting Bliss was extremely upset about the pandemic and the fact that he had recently lost his job.”
At around 1:20 p.m. on Monday, authorities responded to reports of “multiple shots fired with injuries” at Bliss’ Wilson Borough home, about an hour outside of Philadelphia. Upon arrival, officers found Bliss “unresponsive and not breathing” and a semi-automatic pistol near his body. The Northampton County Coroner ruled Bliss’ death a suicide.
The girlfriend, who is alert, and other witnesses told police that Bliss had become upset that the pandemic—which has infected more than 206,200 people and killed 4,542 nationwide—cost him his job. Authorities said an enraged Bliss “went into the basement and came outside on to the rear porch” with a handgun.
“While holding the handgun, Bliss told the victim, ‘I already talked to God and I have to do this,’” police said. “The victim ran off of the porch and he shot at her four times striking her once. Bliss then shot himself.”
The attempted murder-suicide marks the latest example of the collateral damage of the coronavirus pandemic. Domestic violence experts and law enforcement believe domestic violence incidents will rise as families are forced into social isolation across the country.
Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families in New York, told The Daily Beast that, for some survivors of domestic violence, being able to leave their home is critical—and forced stay-at-home orders isolate them from the “social support system” that would have previously allowed them to report abuse.
“Domestic violence is all about power and control and what a powerful tool it is to be able to say to somebody, ‘You can’t go out of this house, you have to be here,’” Kluger said. “Even though people can go out for certain things, this environment just engages in the most negative way the power of the abuser.”
Kluger said her organization, and several others across New York—the current epicenter of the outbreak in the United States—are anticipating an increase in domestic violence calls as the pandemic continues.
A spokesperson for the National Domestic Violence Hotline said they haven’t yet seen a significant increase in call volumes but were receiving an increase in calls related to COVID-19 and the anxiety of people being stuck in their homes.
“Right now, the people who are at risk are very isolated,” Kluger said, noting her organization is reaching out to former clients who might be at risk. “We are worried that we are going to see an uptick while this ‘shelter-in-place’ is in effect. Also, as the tension of the crisis rises, we anticipate people will begin reporting soon.”
But, even as the looming number of domestic violence cases threatens New York and other cities, the number of healthy police officers is also dwindling.
New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Wednesday there were at least 1,400 officers who had tested positive for coronavirus, while about 17 percent had called out sick. Despite trying to police a city with a virus-related death toll of more than 1,000, Shea has previously stressed the NYPD is focused on domestic violence cases.
“What I’m concerned about is, it’s happening and it’s not getting reported,” Shea said Tuesday, noting that survivors may not be calling for help. “We’ve asked the domestic violence officers—you know who the people are in your commands, who are most vulnerable. Pick up the phone, pick up the computer keyboard and start communicating with them. Just make sure that things are OK.”