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Md. Family, Killed by Father's Hand, Laid to Rest in Md.

Funeral procession for the Bilotti-Wood family funeral through Middletown, Md. Shown is the funeral procession for the Bilotti-Wood family down Myersville-Middletown Road on Friday.
Funeral procession for the Bilotti-Wood family funeral through Middletown, Md. Shown is the funeral procession for the Bilotti-Wood family down Myersville-Middletown Road on Friday. (Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)
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By Matt Zapotosky and Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 25, 2009

Three black hearses led hundreds of cars yesterday on a procession through a town in Frederick County, creeping by stop signs draped with pastel ribbons and passing within view of a pale yellow house where bouquets and teddy bears have collected on the front porch.

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Each hearse carried a coffin. Inside one coffin were the bodies of two brothers, 5 and 4. Inside another was their mother and their 2-year-old sister. And in the third was Christopher Wood, 34, who last week killed them and then himself.

"Nobody's ever going to know why," said Middletown resident Brenda Blank, who lived near the family, which had outwardly seemed untroubled. "We'll never have the answer."

But to some psychologists and criminologists, at least part of the explanation lies in the financial pressures bearing down on families across the nation. Increasingly, callers to suicide hotlines complain of money problems. For a troubled few, including Wood, the response to such stress is to kill their wives and children and then themselves, experts said.

"This is a very rare but patterned way that people respond to economic reversals in their lives," said Richard J. Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice and an expert on family violence. Often in such cases, he said, "killing their families is part of a broader process of killing themselves."

Some researchers say unemployment rates over the years have correlated with family homicides, though others say the relationship is so slight as to be statistically insignificant.

In January outside Los Angeles, a 40-year-old man who had recently been fired and was behind on his house payments killed his five children, his wife and himself. A week ago, at a hotel outside Baltimore, a New York financial investor being investigated on allegations of defrauding clients killed his two daughters, his wife and himself.

The Wood family was at least $460,000 in debt, about half of that on credit cards, authorities have said. The bodies of Wood, his wife, Francie Billotti-Wood, 33, and their children, Chandler, Gavin and Fiona, were discovered Saturday morning in the yellow house on Washington Street.

Relatives and law enforcement officials have declined to detail how the family encumbered such debt, but the barest outlines can be gleaned from public records, Billotti-Wood's blog postings and interviews.

As recently as 2005, the family reliably paid rent on a house in Atlantic Beach, Fla., according to their landlord.

Billotti-Wood was then working part time as a fundraiser for the University of North Florida. Her husband was working for CSX Corp., the railroad company based in Jacksonville.

In March 2005, the family bought a house in Jacksonville with virtually no money down, taking on a $208,000 mortgage, records show.

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