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Home / Health & Science

We are all murderers in waiting …when we snap!

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy ROSA AGUTU | Mon,May 03 2021 07:00:00 EAT
By ROSA AGUTU | Mon,May 03 2021 07:00:00 EAT

 Majority of Kenyans hardly consider themselves capable of blue murder. [Courtesy]

You recall the story of Lawrence Njoroge Warunge. He was arrested as a suspect in the murder of five family members who included his parents in Kiambu County this January.

Njoroge, 22, confessed to having been inspired by “Killing Eve”, a British dark thriller TV series, besides also reading two novels “Eight Perfect Murders” and “The Eve of Murder”. Psychiatric evaluations have since deemed him fit to stand trial.

Then there was the recent story of Kelvin Akal, 24, from Nyalenda Kilo estate in Kisumu, who chopped off his grandmother’s head and surrendered with it to the police.

Akal, an orphan, queued at the Kisumu Central station holding a bucket with the head of his grandmother, Jane Anyango, 70. Even police thought he was visiting an inmate. Akal confessed to the act, arguing it was to end her suffering.

Majority of Kenyans hardly consider themselves capable of blue murder. According to psychologists, however, anyone can be triggered to kill.

Jacque Gathu, a psychiatrist, says all of us have the potential to snap and lose it. And that includes murder from the most unexpected of quarters: Guyo Waqo was sentenced to hang after being implicated in the murder of Italian Bishop Luigi Locati in Isiolo County in July 2005. Despite pleading his innocence Fr Waqo was sentenced to hang.

Dr Gathu says that murder; the pre-meditated action of taking someone’s life can be better explained by nature versus nurture and temperament because “we all have the animalistic instinct to want to protect ourselves and what we hold dear.  To what extent depends on temperament and upbringing.”

Gathu adds that murder also has ‘biological triggers’ as “to some extent, we are all products of our genes and our environment hence bringing again the issue of nature versus nurture. Other triggers could be over glorification of murder, unresolved childhood trauma, and drug and substance abuse.”

In his 2015 book Why We Snap: Understanding the Rage Circuit in Your Brain, neurobiologist R Douglas Fields singles out the nine triggers for snapping.

Snapping, or flipping out, is deemed a negative response to situations but Dr Fields explains that it is called snapping only when the outcome is inappropriate.

“It’s not conscious, because cortical thinking is too slow in a sudden, dangerous situation.” Dr Gathu on her part, lists three major reasons for murder: Need for power, lust (either sexual or relational), and greed.

Government pathologist Dr. Johansen Oduor said the nature of stab wounds on a deceased can be a pointer to the rage of an assailant and possible power relations with the victim. In the case of Waqo and Bishop Locati, the trial revealed a recurrent issue of control of donor quid in the Catholic Parish in Isiolo.

And as for lust, crimes of passion, we all have case studies. Fields told Dhwiscover that murder has little connection to mental illness, rather, people suddenly snap in rage, and in many cases - domestic disputes or barroom brawls — resulting in murder including of loved ones. 

“We all have the capability for violence. It is wired into our brain over the struggle of evolution. We need it for protection. We needed it to kill animals. It doesn’t need to be taught,” said Fields. “Unfortunately, it can be triggered inappropriately. One thing that is always behind this is chronic stress that isn’t understood. Stress puts these triggers for violence on edge.”

Genetics, says Fields, also dictates how we respond to danger as “everything in biology is a mixture of genes, environment and chance. Different people will respond differently to the same situation… genes affect the circuitry and production of neurotransmitters like dopamine. That’s part of the reason why different people will have different reactions to the same threat.”


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