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Mom who drove into lake after allegedly shooting ex-husband, setting house on fire may have wanted to kill whole family, says expert

by Ellen Killoran

“The fact that she brought the child into the lake with her suggests she intended to kill all the children,” the forensic psychiatrist said

As authorities and residents in the small southern Illinois town of Glenn Carbon grapple with a shocking apparent murder-suicide that orphaned seven children, a forensic psychiatrist has weighed in on what he thinks might have been going on in Cristy Campbell’s mind in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Although police have not officially determined that the young mother of seven shot her ex-husband Justin Campbell in the head before setting her house on fire and driving her SUV into a lake with her three-month-old infant inside, Fox 23 News reports that Cristy is a suspect in the horrific family tragedy.

Cristy had previously accused Justin of  “abusing [her] on a weekly basis” in a request for an order of protection.

READ more: Baby miraculously saved after mom drives them into lake; Dad found shot to death in burned house

A forensic psychiatrist and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland spoke to the Belleville News-Democrat about the shocking case. Dr. Phillip Resnick, described by the newspaper as “one of the foremost experts on moms who kill,” said he believes that Cristy Campbell may have intended to kill the entire family rather than leave her seven children without parents and risk them being separated.

“If a mother is depressed, they tend to think the worst — my children will be without parents, and they’ll be broken up, because no foster family will take all seven of them,” Resnick told the newspaper, continuing:

I don’t think she planned for them to escape. The fact that she brought the child into the lake with her suggests that she intended to kill all of the children … If her goal was to burn down the home and not harm the children, I would expect her to just marshal the children outside and then set the fire. Counting on them to escape on their own would have been too high-risk.

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, some of Campbell’s children were seen on a neighbor’s surveillance video running after her car as she pulled out of the driveway in the early hours of Thursday morning with her infant in tow, moments before flames were seen erupting from the home. Some of the children were also reportedly seen on surveillance video running from the home after it caught fire. An unknown number of children ran to a nearby Walmart to report the fire and the fact that there was someone still inside the home.

Justin Campbell’s body was reportedly found badly burned, but he died of a gunshot wound to the head. 

Cristy, 32, had divorced Justin Campbell in 2013, but the father of her children is believed to have been living in her home at the time of the tragedy. Police told reporters that the couple had a tumultuous history, and that authorities had been called to her home on roughly 50 occasions since 2010, including for domestic calls.

It remains unclear if a dispute led to Justin Campbell’s shooting death, and the Belleville News-Democrat had earlier reported that Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn said it would be impossible to compare ballistics with the gun found in Cristy’s car Thursday morning.

Highland Fire Department EMT Todd Zobrist saved the three-month-old boy in a dramatic rescue, reportedly pulling the unconscious baby from inside the partially submerged SUV, where there were only a few inches of air space remaining in the vehicle as sunk into Silver Lake, about a 20-minute drive from Campbell’s home. Zobrist then performed lifesaving CPR on the roof of the SUV. The infant is expected to make a full recovery.

Dr. Resnick told the Belleville News-Democrat that the tragic case is something of an anomaly.

“[T]here’s a concept called familicide, where one parent wipes out the rest of the family. But 95 percent of those are committed by fathers who kill their wife and the children,” Resnick told the newspaper. “What’s unusual in this case is that the woman [allegedly] killed her husband.”

 

Photo: Police handout

Ellen is a seasoned journalist and former media & entertainment reporter with a taste for true crime. Formerly a senior editor at IBTimes, her work has appeared in Forbes, Rolling Stone, Maxim, NYMag, Indiewire, and more. She co-produced the HBO documentary "Youth Knows No Pain" and appeared in a documentary series that aired alongside the Lifetime movie "Manson's Lost Girls."