LOCKPORT TOWNSHIP, Ill. — An Illinois man who suspected that his girlfriend had contracted COVID-19 fatally shot her and then himself last week, police officials said.
Both Patrick Jesernik, 54, and Cheryl Schriefer, 59, tested negative for the illness after their deaths, Will County Sheriff’s Office officials said.
Deputies went to the couple’s home in Lockport Township around 8 p.m. Thursday for a welfare check at the request of Jesernik’s parents, who grew worried after not hearing from him for a while. The deputies found both Jesernik and Schriefer dead of gunshot wounds, authorities said.
Investigators said all doors and windows of the home were locked from the inside, so police and firefighters forced their way inside. The couple were found in separate rooms.
“Both individuals had a pooling of blood formed around their heads,” according to a news release from the Sheriff’s Office. “A loaded revolver, containing two spent shell casings and three live rounds, was located near Patrick’s body. There were no signs of a struggle, and the home was neat and orderly.”
As detectives and crime scene technicians processed the home, the couple’s loved ones arrived.
“Family arrived on scene and stated that Patrick had been scared that he and Cheryl had contracted the COVID-19 virus, and that Cheryl was tested two days ago,” the news release said. “It was reported that Cheryl was having a hard time breathing. The family stated that to their knowledge, she had not received the test result.”
Testing done after the shooting showed Jesernik’s fears were unfounded.
An autopsy showed Schriefer died of a gunshot wound to the back of the head, delivered at close range, the news release said. Jesernik’s wound, also to the head, was determined to be self-inflicted.
Sheriff’s Office officials said the vast majority of service calls deputies have responded to during the ongoing pandemic have been regarding domestic disputes and crisis intervention. Jesernik and Schriefer, who NBC News reported has been together for about eight years, had no prior record of domestic violence calls to their home, authorities said.
The New York Times reported that there has been a surge of domestic violence incidents worldwide as much of the globe locks down to stem the spread of COVID-19, which as of Tuesday morning had sickened nearly 1.4 million people, killing 76,507, around the globe.
“Abuse is about power and control. When survivors are forced to stay in the home or in close proximity to their abuser more frequently, an abuser can use any tool to exert control over their victim, including a national health concern such as COVID-19,” the National Domestic Abuse Hotline’s website states. “In a time where companies may be encouraging that their employees work remotely, and the CDC is encouraging social distancing, an abuser may take advantage of an already stressful situation to gain more control.”
The United Nations on Sunday called for urgent action to combat the problem, the Times reported.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, said Monday that the confinement forced by the pandemic is creating added strain on families worried about their health, their safety and their finances. It is also increasing the isolation already suffered by women with violent partners, according to the UN.
The situation is “a perfect storm for controlling, violent behavior behind closed doors,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
UN Secretary General António Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire in all conflicts around the world as nations work toward the common goal of eradicating the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. He pointed out, however, that peace is “not just the absence of war.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold human suffering and economic devastation around the world,” Guterres said in a video posted on Twitter. “I appealed for an end to violence everywhere, now.
“But violence is not confined to the battlefield. For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest -- in their own homes.”
He urged peace at home, and in homes, around the world.
“We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19,” Guterres said. “But they can trap women with abusive partners.”
Guterres described the global surge in domestic violence as “horrifying.” Calls for support services in some countries have doubled, he said.
In the meantime, police and healthcare providers are overwhelmed by COVID-19 and understaffed. Local support groups are short on funds and, while some domestic violence shelters have been forced to close, others are full and unable to take in more victims.
“I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19,” Guterres said.
Anyone unable to speak safely can also text LOVEIS to 22522.