The photo of the Lupoe family on their now cancelled Facebook account showed the smiling faces of a happy American family. Their tidy new home in a Los Angeles suburb seemed like a poster for the American dream. But that dream lay in bloody tatters on Wednesday following a suspected murder-suicide in which the father killed his five small children and his wife before turning the gun on himself.
Such acts seem to defy explanation, but there is little doubt that the ever-growing economic stress faced by many in the US lay behind the tragic incident. Both the parents had recently lost their jobs as medical technicians at a local hospital.With five small mouths to feed, a mortgage to pay and no prospects for employment, "why leave our children in someone else's hands?" reasoned an obviously desperate Ervin Antonio Lupoe in a rambling note sent to the police and a local TV station.
By the time police arrived at the Lupoe home it was too late. The twin two-year-old boys lay dead next to their mother in a back bedroom. The eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old twins were found dead in a back bedroom. Next to them lay their father, a handgun by his side, the house still smelling of gunpowder.
Even more tragic was the fact that area police are becoming used to such chilling scenarios - and even worse. Tuesday's shooting followed a horrific Christmas eve killing in which a recently unemployed and divorced man dressed up as Santa Claus and attacked participants at a family party killing his ex-wife and eight of her relatives. He later killed himself.
In October, an unemployed money manager in the prosperous Porter Ranch area killed his wife, three children and mother-in-law before killing himself. There have also been several cases of homeowners committing suicide after receiving notices of foreclosure.
With unemployment in Los Angeles at a 14-year high of 9.5 per cent and climbing - higher than the national rate - Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa fears there could be more.
"Unfortunately this has become an all too common story in the last few months but that does not and should not lead people to resort to extreme measures," said Villaraigosa. "I don't think there is any shame in this economy for anybody who has been laid off in accessing support and help to get through this because it is a traumatic experience."
Los Angeles is considered especially vulnerable to economic-related stress because of the relatively high cost of housing, a high rate of foreclosures and a local culture that is steeped in the trappings of fame and economic success.
Ken Kondo, the press spokesman for the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health, estimates that calls into the department's hotline are more than double last year's level of 32,000. In the last six months alone, the hotline has received 22,000 calls related to economic stress, he said.
"Since the rise of foreclosures and unemployment we have seen a huge increase in calls," Kondo said. "Now is a particularly bad time since it's what we call the holiday blues. People's families have left, the bills for all the holiday spending are starting to come due so people are becoming isolated and sometimes angry."
The dire economic situation is also impacting the organisation's ability to help. Drastic state budget cuts would slash the programme just as it's needed most, Kondo said. "It would have a terrible impact especially with the amount of traumatic incidents we are having."
The latest tragedy sent a shockwave through Los Angeles and has been the main story in local news reports.
"The news is so bad these days so it's not surprising that there's been an increase in feelings of depression, despair, hopelessness and even suicide," said an anchor on local station KTLA, which like other Los Angeles channels gave viewers a list of organisations that could be contacted for help.
But neighbours of the late Lupoe family, who crowded into a local church Tuesday night to meet local officials, said that their neighbourhood needed jobs, not advice. The economic downturn has hit the area especially hard since many breadwinners were employed at the nearby Los Angeles Port, which has seen traffic plummet in recent months.
"All the hotlines in the world won't help if we don't have jobs," said truck-driver Jaime Solache, according to KTLA. "I just pray this never happens again, but I won't be surprised if it does."