One day after witnessing the immediate aftermath of a mother who reportedly killed her four young daughters, then took her own life in the family’s Jerusalem apartment, the head of United Hatzalah’s Trauma and Crisis Response Unit recalled the nightmarish scene.
Miriam Ballin, who leads the unit, said she arrived at the smoke-filled, fifth-floor residence in an upscale Talpiot building compound within 15 minutes of getting the call with a team of four psychologists and social workers to calm immediate family members and neighbors.
“This was a psychological mass casualty incident,” said Ballin, a family therapist and EMT, on Monday.
“Usually, you have a physical mass casualty incident, but this was not the case, and we had so many people who needed emotional support and stabilization immediately, that our team was bogged down with a tremendous amount of work.”
That work, Ballin said, included comforting the husband and mother of the 36-year-old woman who purportedly carried out the crime against their children, ages 12, nine and four years, and one aged 11 months.
“The first patients we had were the husband and mother of the woman who died,” she said, adding that the husband worked nearby. “He was in shock, and when his rabbi arrived at the scene he just held him. Little by little, the reality set in.”
While the family’s identity has not been made public, Ballin said they were ultra-Orthodox immigrants from France, and that the mother likely suffered from a severe case of postpartum depression.
Monday night, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed that two of the daughters underwent partial autopsies at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, but said he could not confirm the causes of death amid the ongoing investigation. The girls’ father had earlier opposed allowing them to be autopsied, but eventually consented for just the two older daughters. Israeli media reports indicated the girls may have had strangulation marks around their necks.
The funeral for the five family members was scheduled to take place Monday night at 10:30 at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuchot.
“Any time we have an incident like this, with a baby under a year old, we suspect the mother to be suffering from postpartum depression,” explained Ballin, who could not reveal further details, pending an ongoing police investigation. “We treated [the dead woman’s] mother when she arrived, which was a very difficult process because we were locked in a room [in the apartment] with her for an hour by police with a gag order, and we weren’t allowed to tell her anything about what was going on.”
“She had no idea what happened,” Ballin continued, “and our responders could not tell her anything while trying to provide support and care.”
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Additionally, many of the neighbors on the floor were unnerved by the tragedy.
“There were a lot of gawking neighbors, who obviously were traumatized by what they were hearing,” Ballin said. “In those types of situations, we try to distract the neighbors with some sort of job, or busy work, so we can minimize their exposure, so they won’t be subjected to more trauma watching bodies being removed.”
Ballin described the deceased mother’s sister as being “very highly agitated and upset” when she arrived.
“We try to bring the patients back to the present, so that they can better deal with the situation,” she explained, adding that French speakers were brought in to assist in effectively communicating.
“Sometimes, they’re so highly agitated that they are just yelling and screaming, and we can’t move forward and get the information for a report – we can’t focus on making funeral arrangements, or getting in touch with other close family members or friends – because they are just not with us.”
While Ballin noted that she could not sedate the family members, she said her team administered “psychological first aid,” based on protocols from the World Health Organization.
This entailed providing “practical assistance,” she said, as well as connections to appropriate resources, including the family rabbi, who was summoned to the scene before the husband’s parents arrived.
“It was definitely one of the most horrific scenes that we have seen since the opening of our unit just over a year ago,” she said.
Late Monday afternoon, residents of the community, located off Hebron Road, expressed shock at what took place so close to home, less than a day earlier.
Maya Salansky, 16, who visited her grandmother a few units away from the crime scene, said her grandmother regularly prayed with the father of the deceased children.
“I didn’t know the daughters, but my grandmother said their father is religious and was close to his family,” she said. “She was surprised by this because everyone thought they were fine.”