Letting others know about a homicide

The news is difficult to share and hard to hear. Letting others know is not easy, and this page provides some suggestions to help you manage this process.

Police can be asked to arrange for officers across the country to personally visit people who need to know quickly, or for international police officers to do this overseas.

Early on the cause of death may not be immediately confirmed, so it’s best to explain that "it’s suspected that the person died by homicide and investigations are continuing".

Below are some things to help you through the process of letting people know. Click on the boxes to find out more.

It’s important that family, whānau, and friends close to the person hear the news and details about what is known as soon as possible. This is best coming from someone who can do this in a sensitive way and, if possible, it should be done in person or by phone, rather than by text or an online message.

  • Make a list of who you need to tell and who you should contact first. Add their contact details.
  • Talk with your family or whānau about what you’d like people to know or kept private.
  • Find a few words to say, such as, I’m very sad to tell you that xx has died and it looks like it was a homicide.’ If police are unsure if the death was a homicide, let them know that. Police investigations will take some time before a cause of death can be confirmed.
  • You might want to tell people yourself, or you could ask a trusted member of family, whānau, or friend to help do this. It can be hard to deal with others’ reactions, so having support can help.
  • There will be others to inform about the person’s death later. Our practical guide After a death: dealing with practical matters may be helpful.

Shock can make bad news hard to take in. You might need to repeat what you’ve said. People may have questions and might push you for answers. Don’t answer questions or share information that you don’t want to.  Have something ready to say, such as, ‘It’s been a terrible shock and I/we don’t want to say any more right now.’

Shock can also mean that some people won’t know what to say at all, or they might say or do thoughtless or hurtful things, so having support when you tell others the news can help.

It can be incredibly hard to tell such sad news to a child or young person. Being honest with them early on protects them from later hearing the news insensitively or incorrectly from others. What they can understand and the questions they’ll ask will depend on their age and stage of development. Our information sheet, After a homicide: Supporting grieving children and young people has some ideas on how to have these important conversations and ways to support them.

A suspected homicide death can quickly become public information when the media share details about what’s happened. Newspapers, TV, internet, radio, magazines, and social media can all play a part in spreading the story. You and others bereaved by homicide often have little choice but to have a personal loss talked about publicly.

People from the media may ask you or other family, whānau, and friends to make a comment about what’s happened, or be interviewed about the person who died. The media do not always have your best interests in mind.

Some victims find it helpful and empowering to share their story. For others dealing with the media is very stressful. Speaking with the media or not is your choice. Our information sheet After a homicide: Managing media interest offers some helpful tips to make informed decisions about dealing with the media.

Be careful if you share the news on social media or the internet.

  • Make sure those close to the person first hear the news in a personal way.
  • Realise others might spread the news or post things to honour the person. You won’t have control over how they do this.
  • Some comments may be hurtful. Avoid reading them. They’ll add unwanted stress.
  • If you post photos of the person who has died, media can access these and use them. They can also continue to use them for years afterwards, which can cause distress to members of family, whānau, and friends who unexpectedly see images on their loved one used publicly.
  • If the person who died had social media accounts, you may want these to stay active for people to continue posting on or to close them down.
    Find out how to manage these here.

You can download a copy of our information sheet, After a Homicide - Managing media interest at the bottom of this page for more details on sharing news on social media and managing social media accounts.

People often will want to offer immediate support. This can be kind and helpful, but it can sometimes also feel overwhelming. It’s okay to accept offers of help and to say, ‘thanks but I just need some space right now.’ Consider using an answerphone message or an automatic reply to emails and leave any letters and messages to read and reply to later. Ask visitors to only stay briefly or put a sign on the door asking for no visitors. You could ask someone trusted to deal with calls and visitors on your behalf. Have someone do your shopping or get it delivered. Take a break from social media.

Making these choices can give you some space to think and grieve as you cope with the sudden news yourself.

Victim Support has developed a helpful information handbook for those affected by homicide, in partnership with Skylight. You can see a PDF version of it here or ask your Support Worker for a printed copy.

Downloads

After a death: Dealing with practical matters
After a homicide: Supporting grieving children and young people
After a homicide: Managing media interest
After a homicide: Answers to common questions
With you on your journey (Handbook)