Unimaginable, but true. Unfortunately, some women are very capable and willing to kill their own children, the very children they grew inside their bellies for nine months. Fathers kill too, but what "causes" this? What makes a parent kill their own offspring, or any child for that matter? Some say "they must be insane, even crazy", but this is not necessarily true. The official term is filicide, which is the homicide of a child by a biological parent. Slate.com says women, who commit less than 13 percent of all violent crimes in the United States—commit about 50 percent of all parental murders. As Chron reports, finding statistics on filicide is nearly impossible, mainly because of the "classification" of the crimes. They report Cheryl Meyer, co-author of “Mothers Who Kill Their Children” as saying,
"a mother kills a child in this country once every three days, and that’s a low estimate."
The Huffington Post reminds us that our reluctancy as a society to believe mothers would be capable of killing their offspring is hindering our ability to recognize warning signs, intervene and prevent more tragedies.
Lita Linzer Schwartz, a professor emeritus of psychology and women's studies at Penn State, and co-author of "Endangered Children" told the Huffington Post, "these women almost always feel alone, with a total lack of emotional support". Schwartz continued to say, "we see cases where the mother thinks the child would be better off in heaven than on this miserable earth," for example with an abusive father. "They think it's a good deed, a blessing." This was the case in 2011 when Lashanda Armstrong drove her mini-van into the frigid New York Hudson River, killing three of her four children (her 10-year-old son escaping through a window). The Huffington Post told of a school supervisor, who said Armstrong reported "feeling alone" when she picked the kids up from the Young and Unique Christian Development Child Care. Similarly, Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her two young sons in 1994 by sending her car into a pond. Only difference, Smith was too much of a coward to kill herself along with her innocent children.
CNN reported in 2010 of Shaquan Duley, 29, an unemployed mother from Orangeburg, South Carolina, who suffocated her toddlers, ages 1 and 2, with her bare hands, strapped them into car seats and submerged the car in a river. Nadine Kaslow, psychologist at Emory University, suggests what happened with Duley as,
"Things are building up and building up and building up, and then one thing will be the final straw," she said. "Your coping resources are so depleted that when that one more thing comes along, you just can't manage that on top of everything else."
And who will ever forget Andrea Yates, and how she drowned her five children in her Houston bathtub, only later to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Not every filicide occurs by drowning, as in 2012, when Wisconsin's Aaron Schaffhausen, was convicted of slashing the throats of his three young daughters, as reported by the StarTribune. His motive, CBS reports, was an act of revenge against his ex-wife. During his trial, Schaffhausen argued he had a mental defect that kept him from knowing it was wrong. Susan Diane Eubanks of California, shot and killed her four sons "execution style" to get revenge on her husband, as reported by Oddee in 1997. The New York Times reported in 1998 of Khoua Her, 24, who admitted to strangling her six children to death in their low poverty Minnesota apartment. The police had been called at least 15 times over an 18 month period for domestic turbulence. Chief Finney acknowledged the many police visits to the apartment, but said, ''There was never any indication the children were in this kind of danger.'' A neighbor described the mother as ''someone who was not really taking care of her kids,'' saying that she would sometimes leave the apartment without taking them. Marilyn Lemak murdered her three small children in 1999. The Chicago Tribune described Lemak explaining why she drugged and suffocated her own children, in a documentary made thirteen years after the crime. Lemak claims that "deepening depression amidst a bitter divorce" was her reason.
It is not uncommon for two people to have differing views of the same possible perpetrator. Perhaps this is one reason why the possibility of filicide cannot be pre-determined or anticipated, because we see possible warning signs in a different way from how others see them. The NCBI reports filicidal mothers to have frequent depression, psychosis, prior mental health treatment, and suicidal thoughts. In their World Psychiatry report, the mothers were often poor, socially isolated, full-time caregivers, who were victims of domestic violence or had other relationship problems. Disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and primary responsibility for the children were common. Persistent crying or child factors were sometimes precipitants for the filicide. Some mothers had previously abused the child, while others were mentally ill and devoted to their child. Neglectful or abusive mothers were often substance abusers, with many of the perpetrators also having psychosis, depression, or suicidality.
Is filicide preventable? If so many precursors of these homicidal maniacs have been identified, why does it continue to happen? Is it the responsibility of extended family members to notify authorities when warning signs persist, or are authorities dropping the ball after being notified? It is my opinion that neither of these are true, as a person's emotional state can change in the blink of an eye, and may not display any of the "signs" they are about to kill their children. Christine James-Brown, CEO of the Child Welfare League of America, reports in her blog, that we all have a role in preventing abuse and neglect, and offers tips on how we can advocate against abuse and neglect as concerned parents. I say to err on the side of caution. If you see anyone behaving in a way that is inhumane, unkind, or illegal against children, report it. It is better to be cautious than to have the innocent blood of any child on your own hands, as we are truly our brother's keepers.
For all children who have been murdered: Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward ~ Psalm 127:3 (New American Standard Bible). May they rest in peace.
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