A shooting this week in Jefferson carried out by a man who wounded his ex-girlfriend before taking his own life; shed light on an aspect of domestic abuse that news coverage rarely considers: the connection between suicide and intimate partner violence-related homicide. The incident Monday took place around 10 p.m., when Michelle Creamer, 30, was sitting in a car, parked outside a friend’s house, talking on the phone with her 34-year-old ex-boyfriend, Shane Prior.

Creamer got out of the car, police said, only to be forced down the driveway by Prior, who had been hiding on the property. She escaped after being struck in the arm by a shot fired by Prior, who led police on a short car chase before exchanging gunfire with a police officer and then killing himself.

Both from Cushing, they recently split up after 16 years together; their two children were on the premises but didn’t see the shooting and weren’t injured.

Police don’t know whether Creamer had ever sought a protection order against Prior — or whether he had any criminal history at all. But the fact that Prior killed himself after a dispute that authorities have characterized as an act of domestic violence links the shooting to other high-profile domestic abuse cases in Maine.

In 16 cases that the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel considered for its most recent report, released in June, nine perpetrators threatened suicide, six of whom followed through. These facts accord with the results of multiple studies that have found a link between a perpetrator’s threats to kill himself and an increased risk to the lives of his loved ones.

Threatening suicide is a coercive tactic, often used to keep a partner from leaving or to cajole a former partner into a face-to-face meeting. It’s also a way that a perpetrator can keep control without physically abusing his target. But even though friends and family members often don’t see these threats for what they are: a declaration that the abuser’s present or past partner is at risk. So when someone threatens to harm himself, that’s sufficient grounds for calling 911, according to the Maine homicide review panel.

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that while an abuser who threatens suicide may have a mental illness, these conditions do not cause abuse. The illness and the abusive behaviors should be considered separately, and the abusive partner should be held responsible for their actions.

Thankfully, she survived. But there are far too many examples in Maine of domestic violence killings that could have been prevented if more of us took suicide threats seriously.

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