Editor’s note: This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 2-1-1.
NEW PORT RICHEY — A father walked into his Land O’ Lakes home Wednesday evening to find that his wife had shot their two young sons to death in their bedrooms before turning the gun on herself, sheriff’s officials said.
The boys were 9 months old and 3, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco said at a news conference Thursday at the Sheriff’s Office in New Port Richey.
Nocco used the incident to issue a plea for greater attention across society to mental health issues, pointing to mental health as a factor in the mother’s actions — “a decision that was beyond horrific.”
“This is a tragedy that lives with people forever,” Nocco said.
Sheriff’s officials did not name the family or where they lived and declined to provide an age for the mother, citing Marsy’s Law — a voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution that was meant to protect crime victims but that denies the public information long available under Florida’s public records laws.
The sheriff did describe the family as young and said deputies had never been called to their home before. The two sons were the couple’s only children.
Nocco declined to elaborate on what might have prompted the shootings, but said, “Couples argue sometimes. Maybe some arguments lead people being upset.”
The father was not at the family’s single-family home in the Lake Padgett area when the shootings occurred, Nocco said. The father called 911 to report the shootings after he returned just before 6 p.m.
The gun used in the shooting was legal and registered to the husband, Nocco said.
On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office sent chaplains and victim advocates to the homes of the family’s relatives in Pasco County and elsewhere in the state, in part so they wouldn’t hear about the deaths via social media, Nocco said.
Still, the Sheriff’s Office issued a brief news release within two hours of the shooting to ease concerns about the 20 to 30 sheriff’s cruisers that soon converged on the neighborhood. There was no threat to public safety, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office has been overwhelmed with mental health calls recently, Nocco said. Some 80 percent of all the office’s calls have a mental health component, he said, including suicide, domestic disputes, substance abuse and runaways.
He said he fears that a rising number of suicides, coupled with the prevalence of a divisive social media, will lead to the “normalization” of tragedies like Wednesday’s.
“It can’t be normal to go to a situation where a mother has killed her kids,” Nocco said.
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Social media did not appear to play a role in the Wednesday shootings, sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Rosa said at the news conference.
The Sheriff’s Office created a team in 2019 to help people struggling with mental health issues and others who call upon the county’s emergency services. The team now numbers 21.
The office partners with outside agencies in these efforts, Nocco said, including Baycare Health System, the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Pasco County School District.
Still, law enforcement remains “the tip of the spear” in dealing with community mental health issues and gets much of the blame when tragedies happen, Nocco said. The responsibility for attacking this crisis head-on should lie with a broader segment of government and society, he said.
“We have to pony up and put the money where it belongs, and deal with this mental health care crisis.”