Another Autistic Child Murdered (Take Two)
As I reflected on this, I found myself wondering why these four murders - Alison Davies, Christopher DeGroot, Katie McCarron and William H. Lash, IV - had affected me so deeply. The obvious answer is that any death should affect me, but the hard, cold truth of the matter is that, with people being killed in wholesale lots both in this country and elsewhere, it is hard to maintain that sort of intensity for long.
Another plausible answer is that these are murders of children, which seems somehow worse than the murder of an adult. This is certainly true enough, but still seems a bit too pat. In 1993, the Chicago Tribune put all murdered children (defined as age 19 and less) on their front pages - ending with a massive front-page photo spread on December 31st. As I recall, the number was well over 100. It was saddening and shocking, but somehow it didn't hit me the same way - it didn't get under my skin and into my head the way these four murders have.
Quite possibly, the reason is that I also have a disabled child, and so these murders resonated with me more strongly than others. But then it hit me - what was different about these murders when compared to the hundreds that happen every years was that they were so terribly premeditated.
For some reason, I find it easier to understand the "heat of the moment" murder - probably from years of television shows, starting with Perry Mason, in which otherwise reasonable, normal people kill in a moment of anger. Even in the Chicago Tribune's year-long series on murdered children, almost all were clearly done in the heat of anger (over half were teenagers killed in gang-related violence, the next largest group was infants and toddlers murdered by their mothers' "boyfriends").
I have tried to understand how someone could kill their own child, tried to put myself in their shoes, as it were, with little success. I have been angry at my children, have even wanted to hit them, but I have never wanted to kill them. For me, that emotion is like the blank areas on ancient maps - "Here there be monsters" - terra incognita.
As part of my reflection, I tried to visualize what it would be like to deliberately kill my child. It just doesn't work for me - I get to the point of raising the weapon and see their sad or fearful face and I just melt. I actually wept, just from the thought of it.
In all four cases, the parents who killed their autistic children had time to reconsider what they were doing - they had to push their child off the bridge, smother them, set fire to their apartment and lock their child inside, or take down the shotgun, load it and fire (I doubt that the Lash family kept a loaded shotgun above the fireplace, not in Washington , DC). I can't even begin to comprehend the frame of mind that this would require.
And this is not to say that I haven't experienced hopelessness and despair. There have been times when I saw my entire life stretching out - past retirement and into death - as the tireless and thankless caretaker of a disabled child. But it didn't drive me to murder - it drove me to set up a trust fund. Because no matter how thankless the job may be, it's my job and I'm going to see that it gets done, even after I'm dead.
Another part of the stories that has bothered me is the way that the last two - Katie McCarron and William Lash - seemed to put a lie to the usual "explanations". In neither of these families was there serious financial want or a lack of support. More government programs or more volunteer respite care would not have materially changed the situations these families were in. Neither did it apear that there had been a pattern of irrational behavior that - in retrospect, at least - could have been seen as "warning signs".
I would like to point to the heated and polarizing rhetoric surrounding autism as a factor in these crimes, but the fact is that I just don't know. And that's because I can't even get a glimmer of what these parents must have been thinking when they set out to deliberately and with malice aforethought to murder their children.
Years ago, I went to a wonderful lecture about the origins of the Universe - the "Big Bang". At one point, the lecturer mentioned that the condition of the newly-born Universe - the extremes of temperature and pressure - so far exceeded anything that exists in our time that he wasn't sure that our current physical laws would apply.
That's how I feel about these murders - they are so foreign to what I know and what I've experienced that they are as incomprehensible as the first microsecond after the "Big Bang".