Double Suicide Echoes Heiress Family's Grief

When Anne Morell Petrillo jumped to her death this week from New York's Tappan Zee Bridge -- the same location where her stepfather took his life 15 years ago -- she sent a strong signal about the grief that drove her to despair.

On New Year's Eve in 1994, Petrillo's stepfather Scott Douglas threw himself into the waters of the Hudson River just north of New York City hours after police say he murdered Petrillo's mother, newspaper heiress Anne Scripps Douglas, with a claw hammer.

Both Scott Douglas and Petrillo were 38 at their deaths and before they jumped, both parked BMW's on the mile-long bridge that takes 135,000 vehicles a day from Tarrytown, N.Y., to New Jersey and beyond.

"I am not a psychiatrist, but I think she was saying that her life stopped then and there," television's Judge Jeanine Pirro told ABCNews.com.

"The message was loud and clear," said Pirro, who was Westchester County District Attorney at the time of the murder and recalls arriving at the crime scene early New Year's Day and seeing Douglas battered with her terrier puppy curled up next to her on bloodied sheets.

The horrific crime was the subject of a 1997 TV movie, "Our Mother's Murder."

No one will ever know why Petrillo decided to reenact her stepfather's suicide, but an acute grief -- one that was insurmountable -- surely played a part, say family and friends.

Petrillo may have been one of an estimated 15 percent of those who suffer from what psychiatrists call "complicated grief" after the death of a loved one. And suicide is a risk factor.

The grief is so severe, it can "wreck a person's life," according to Katherine Shear, the Marion E. Kenworthy Professor of Psychiatry Columbia University School of Social Work and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"I do think it's reasonably likely she suffered from complicated grief," said Shear of Petrillo. "We do know that it's a pretty good indicator that people who have complicated grief think about suicide more."

In recreating her stepfather's suicide, Petrillo may have been telling the world, "You killed me as well as her," speculated Shear, who did not know or treat Petrillo.

Complicated grief or "prolonged grief disorder" is currently under consideration to be added to the DSM-V, the American Psychiatric Association's handbook for diagnosing mental disorders.

Complicated Grief Destroys Lives, Say Experts

This extreme grief causes a "loop of suffering," Shear told ABCNews.com, which is similar to what friends and family say was a "perpetual replay" that Petrillo experienced after her mother's murder.

"She was very depressed. [The murder] did have a big impact on her," her paternal aunt, Mary Jane Haggerty, told the New York Daily News. "It was a lifetime of sadness."

"Her mother's murder haunted her until the end," said a friend of Petrillo's older sister, Wendy Rottman.

"She was just devastated, and this was the way she wanted it," Rottman told The New York Times. "She's at peace now."

"She never recovered from the loss of her mother," said Shelley Goldring Silverman, a neighbor of Petrillo in Rye Brook.

Petrillo had also grieved the death of her father four years ago and her paternal uncle at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

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