NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mental health experts and other professionals working with families in distress said Thursday that talk of suicide by friends and family members is a red flag.
Investigators believe 25-year-old Michelle McCullum of New Orleans shot and killed her 3- and five-year-old children before shooting and killing herself. Their bodies were found Thursday morning inside a vehicle in a wooded section of Old Gentilly Road in New Orleans East.
"When a mom is hopeless and believes the world has nothing good to offer, they often consider taking their children with them," said Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe, an LSU Health psychiatrist.
New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said McCullum had been dealing with some personal problems and even expressed that she was thinking about the violence that ultimately unfolded.
"[She] made that known to other members of the family, and at some point last night the victim stated that she had been feeling homicidal and suicidal, that she was armed with a firearm, and had intended to take the lives of the children and her own life," he said.
"This family, they're going to be feeling lots of guilt, and it's really - there's no one to blame in these situations," said Rebecca Rainey with the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children.
Rainey had advice for anyone who may encounter such despair.
"I would encourage anybody that if they get a call from anybody saying that they're thinking of ending their lives, keep them on the phone until somebody can be in their presence," she said.
"When someone actually brings up suicide is one of the few times we can intervene," Kaliebe said. "So it's where we sort of have to start taking it seriously."
There have been other tragedies involving mothers and their children. In the summer of 2011, police said a 29-year-old mother in Kenner shot and killed her three children before taking her own life.
"In murder-suicides when children are involved and it's the mom, it is usually a severely depressed mom who believes life is not going to be good for their children, and that they're in some ways helping their children out or saving their children by taking them with them." Kaliebe said.
With all of the headlines the McCullum family tragedy are generating, experts said it should send a message to the public to reach out to those close to them who exhibit signs of depression and those expressing a desire to harm themselves or someone else.
"You've got to approach it gently, you don't want to have cops and ambulances swarming their homes, but you know, just arm them with resources, let them know, you know what? I'm available," Rainey said.
"Each person has to use their own judgment, because there are different risks that different people have, and I know at times people will flippantly say something about hurting themselves, or someone else, and we don't need to, you know, flood the emergency room with low-risk situations," Kaliebe said. "And then again, when someone is having depression or severe mental illness, or has any recent crisis or major problems in their life and they mention something like that, I think, you know, that speaks go to quick action by the family."