An elderly couple who officials believe died by murder-suicide left notes expressing concerns that they could not afford to pay for their medical expenses.
Whatcom County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to a home in Ferndale, Washington, on Wednesday morning after a 77-year-old man called 911 and told the dispatcher he was going to kill himself.
The couple were identified as Brian Jones and Patricia Whitney-Jones, 76, by the Whatcom County Medical Examiner. Jones told the dispatcher that he had prepared a note for law enforcement with information and instructions.
"The dispatcher attempted to keep the caller on the line without success," the sheriff's office said in a statement. "The man disconnected the call after saying 'We will be in the front bedroom.'"
When deputies arrived, a crisis negotiator attempted to contact the couple by phone and with a megaphone for about an hour to no avail. Deputies then deployed a robot mounted camera and found Brian Jones lying next to Patricia Whitney-Jones. Both were dead from apparent gunshot wounds.
The sheriff's office said several notes were left at the home citing Patricia Whitney-Jones' severe ongoing medical problems, as well as concerns that the couple could not afford to pay for health care.
Information for their next of kin was also left in a note, officials said. Two dogs who were found at the home were turned over to the Humane Society.
The sheriff's office is investigating the deaths as a likely murder-suicide.
"It is very tragic that one of our senior citizens would find himself in such desperate circumstances where he felt murder and suicide were the only option," Sheriff Bill Elfo said in a statement. "Help is always available with a call to 9-1-1."
Spending on health care for the elderly in the US has been increasing for decades. In 2014, seniors accounted for nearly 15% of the population but approximately 34% of all health care expenditures, according to the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Personal health care spending for people ages 65 and older was nearly $20,000 per person in 2014, more than five times higher than spending per child — $3,749 — and nearly three times as much as adults ages 19 to 64.
Out-of-pocket spending for people ages 65 and older was also higher than other age groups at $2,925 per person in 2014 with people ages 85 and older paying $5,925 per person, according to the health care agency.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line.