ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Mitch Murch still replays the horrific events of July 30, 2012, in his mind.
“Too often. It’s a living nightmare. And when it starts to happen I acknowledge it to myself, and I pray to the kids and try to move on to the rest of my day,” he said.
His former wife, Cathy, shot and killed their two children, Mitchell III and Mary Claire, at their home in the 700 block of Hawbrook Avenue before taking her own life. The murder-suicide stunned and saddened the Glendale community and the greater St. Louis area in equal measure.
Mitch was in the family den reading a newspaper when he heard the shots. At first, he didn’t know what had happened. He thought the house was collapsing and ran through the kitchen to the dining room to look out the front window. Mitch believes this all happened in a 20-second span.
When he returned to the kitchen, Mitch noticed Cathy on the floor with the gun nearby. She’d shot herself. He found Mitchell in the den and Mary Claire upstairs. Both had been shot. Mitch said his son had gone to the last place the boy thought he was.
Mitch called 911 at 10:57 a.m. Glendale police arrived minutes later and found Mitch giving CPR to his son.
Cathy was declared dead at the house. She was 42. Mitchell was brought to St. Louis Children’s Hospital and pronounced dead. He was 10. Mary Claire, 8, was pronounced dead at Mercy Hospital in Creve Coeur.
Homicide detectives determined Cathy shot Mary Claire once and Mitchell three times before using the gun on herself.
Cathy suffered from depression and bipolar disorder and had attempted suicide on more than one occasion. Mitch said the illness made her do something terrible that day. According to him, she would have good mental health days for weeks or months, only to have bad stretches for a couple of weeks at a time.
Prior to the shooting, Mitch said Cathy told him that morning she believed Mary Claire had inherited her problems and that Mitchell had developed leukemia.
Mitch spent the rest of the day answering questions for investigators with the Glendale Police Department and the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis. He said Glendale authorities were caring and professional in handling things. After leaving the police station that night, Mitch had the task of planning three funerals.
Memorial services for Cathy, Mitchell, and Mary Claire took place on August 4, 2012, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. They were buried together at St. Peter Cemetery of Kirkwood.
According to Mitch, the community lifted him up in the aftermath of the tragedy. He found the strength to carry on thanks to his faith, his family, and through therapy. Thinking he’d be reluctant to see a therapist, Mitch’s siblings made arrangements for him. But Mitch embraced therapy. For the next three years, he made regularly-scheduled visits to work on himself and sort through his own emotions and trauma.
The Gift of Forgiveness
Mitch said he learned to forgive Cathy early in his journey of emotional recovery.
“Had I not been able to forgive her, I don’t think that healing would be possible; at least not the way I’ve experienced healing,” he said.
He describes forgiveness as a Heaven-sent gift.
“It could have been from Cathy herself or the three of them or the kids, I don’t know,” he said. “But definitely not something I had the capacity to possess on my own.”
Now a decade removed from the shooting, Mitch no longer has survivor’s guilt.
“You can’t help thinking how you could have gone back and changed the way things turned out. The only thing that I can think of, and, given Cathy’s prior history, was to have a permanent separation of the kids from Cathy, which probably wouldn’t have been possible,” he said.
“Hindsight gives you pretty good vision. Even though I worried about Cathy every day potentially harming herself, I never had any idea that she would do anything like she did to the kids.”
Mitch said Cathy’s mental health was one of many factors that contributed to the tragedy. She was “treatment non-compliant,” meaning she was not consistent with her medication and therapy.
“Although I was given the gift of being able to forgive Cathy for what she did, I do remain very angry about it. I probably always will,” he said. “But the forgiveness aspect lifted what I think would be an unbearable burden.”
Mental Health Advocacy
Mitch, now 53, has been an advocate for suicide prevention and mental health awareness for much of the last 10 years.
He joined the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFPS) because of its mission of advocacy and education, and the resources they provide were appropriate for someone in his situation.
The organization holds several fundraising events across the state each month.
Phyllis Blackwelder, the Missouri-area director for the AFSP, said Mitch Murch and his team have raised more than $22,000 for the organization.
The AFSP will host its 15th annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk at Creve Coeur Lake Park on Sunday, September 25. Mitch said he plans to participate in the walk this year.
Speaking with FOX 2, Mitch has noticed stigmas regarding mental health have lessened over the past several years and people are more willing to have those conversations.
“Everybody is affected by mental illness in some way. And it might not be their own but they know people that are affected and that suffer from mental illness,” he said. “The one thing that I like to emphasize is that talk saves lives. And if you’re not feeling right about your mental health, get help.”
If talking about his experience can help or encourage one person to seek help, Mitch can take some solace in that.
Mitch remarried in June 2017. He was unsure if he’d ever fall in love again.
“I didn’t know if I ever would. It happened unexpectedly,” he said. “It started as an acquaintance that turned into a friendship that then turned into a romance.”
She’s been fantastic with her support, Mitch said.
A decade removed from the events of that terrible day, Mitch says he’s grateful for the community uplifting him, receiving and giving the gift of forgiveness, and for having a loving wife and two stepdaughters.
As of July 2022, he still lives and works in Glendale.
Mitch doesn’t shy away from talking about his children. He enjoys sharing memories of Mitchell and Mary Claire. While sadness lingers for a future without them—Mitchell would be in college and Mary Claire would have just graduated high school—Mitch savors the time spent with his children and doesn’t want people to stop talking about or forget them.
“I would thank them every night after prayer for (Mitchell) being such a great boy and for Mary Claire being such a great girl. I still do,” he said. “…I wonder what they would be doing right now.”
A memorial honoring Mary Claire, Mitchell, and Cathy, sits at Mary Queen of Peace Elementary School in Webster Groves, where the kids attended school and church.
Mitch stays in touch with the families of kids that were in Mitchell and Mary Claire’s classes.
“I see their kids doing what they’re doing and having great academic careers and doing their hobbies and sports, and activities and friendships; they should have two more kids with them.”
(Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Mitch Murch found his son, Mitchell, in the kitchen. The boy had been in the den. We regret this error.)