Saturday, July 22, 2006

Another Autistic Child Murdered (Take Two)

I have deleted the previous post under this title after reading the comments - including my own - and reflecting on them. In what may be a once-in-a-lifetime occurence, I find myself in agreement with JB Handley on one thing - that I was wrong to suggest that Generation Rescue or any of the other autism advocacy groups bear part of the blame for this latest string of killings. People are responsible for their actions, regardless of their mental state at the time, and so the only people who can be fairly blamed in these killings are the killers themselves.

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".


Prometheus

26 Comments:

Blogger Joseph said...

There's a problem with this debate. There are two points people try to get across which seem to be at odds with one another: (1) There are factors that make murder more likely in a particular society; (2) A lack of services and support are not a justification for murder. Both are right.

For example, if you look at murders per capita by country you will note that there are huge differences. Colombia is at the top of the list, and I'd venture a guess this has to do with the virtual civil war in that country combined with drug trade. Clearly, while it wouldn't make sense to justify a murderer in Colombia on the basis that the country is going through a difficult situation, it does make sense to try to solve the larger societal problems that make murder more likely.

In autism, while external factors should not be used to justify murders or to try to explain them away, it is useful to determine what the societal factors are and address them if possible.

Now, some people say it's the lack of support and services. I think this is crap.

The social construction of autism as a devastation much greater than the real practical difficulties involved in rasing an autistic person is really the key issue. And when people offer sympathy to murderers of cognitively disabled children, that just makes things worse, and could even increase the odds of additional murders.

JB Jr. has said that his own son, unless cured, would be better off dead than alive. This kind of talk is most unhelpful and a step in the wrong direction. (Not to mention that it establishes motive, if something were to happen to Sam).

22 July, 2006 12:59  
Anonymous Camille said...

Thanks Prometheus.

It's amazing the kind of energy--mental and physical--it takes to keep a baby alive, even from conception to some extent, and certainly from birth. Blood, sweat and tears. Not to mention money and adrenaline. Some people send their kids off to be parented by nannies or whatever, and maybe that's easier, but I think it's pretty rare. When my typical kid hit the teen years I thought of all the parents who lose their teens to teenage stupidity, car crashes and drugs, what a waste of all that energy that went into bring the child to 16. I dreaded the idea of my NT child dying as a teen. I feel the same way about kids joining the military. Even if they are proud, military parents must just suffer so to lose a child.

How could anyone plan to kill their own child or allow a "boyfriend" around who might? It's really mind boggling, terra incognita for me, too. The gun thing makes it easier to kill in a minute, but some of these people spend hours in planning and carrying this out. It does resonate in a really bad way. One of my kids looked a lot like Katie McCarron. That made her murder all the more painful for me. I was physically pained for a day or two when I learned of Abubakar's death. That was only a shade away from premeditated murder on the part of the doctor (who has never been disciplined for his malpractice and is still a DAN! doc in good standing!)....

You have far more integrity than JB Handley does.

22 July, 2006 15:55  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

I should be glad that you and I can find something to agree on, Prometheus. It's a little hard, though, to celebrate agreement on the principle that there can be no justification for children being murdered. Thanks for a reasonable and well-thought-out post.

22 July, 2006 16:10  
Blogger Heraldblog said...

I think some parents are so attached to their disabled child that they convince themselves that their kids could not survive, or would suffer in some unnecessary way, if the parent/caregiver was gone. When I read the story of Mr. Lash in Washington, DC, the first thing that came to my mind was that Mr. Lash's personal life had gone to pot, and he decided to commit suicide. In this nightmarish scenario, murdering his son was a perverse act of love, possible born of a concern that the mother was not capable of providing the care that the father was providing.

22 July, 2006 16:18  
Blogger Fore Sam said...

How many of you people would like to spend your life in an institution with nothing to do but watch cartoons? If you want to play up my assertion that my son would be better off dead than institutionalized, at least include the part where I state my belief that he would go directly to Heaven. Heaven is a hell of a lot better than an institution. Of course, you atheists won't beleive that until you find yourselves in Hell.

22 July, 2006 17:26  
Anonymous Ford said...

It takes a good man to admit he was wrong. Thanks Prometheus. Recently I almost lost my son to an accident, and that is the only time I felt despair concerning him. I can't understand why a parent would kill his kid, It just doesn't make any sense. My son is a blessing and a gift from god, his mile wide smile warms my heart and fills me with joy. So when I hear of things like this, I classify the people responsible as "whacked out nutjobs", because they can't possibly be like you or I.

22 July, 2006 17:49  
Blogger María Luján said...

Hi Prometheus
Thank you very much for your so-well expressed feelings and thoughts and your reflection.
Beyond any disagreement, your attitude tells a lot about the person you are.
Like you, I can not understand. It is shocking.
I almost lost my first child. She almost died when she was born ( she had hypocalcemia and almost a heart attack and several apneas in repetition, very VERY frightened). I remember the feelings of total desperation and sadness, without hope, of total emptiness that I felt the worst 48 hours in my life. Fortunately, she recovered, but even when she has now near 10 years, I am still affected when I remember. The same feelings I have only with the idea of losing my autistic child.
For me, there is no worst treason in the world for the child than his/her murder by the person/s that is/are the centre of his/her universe: parents.In the case of disabled children, we are also their advocates and their connection with us is so profound, so unique; we are so important for them, they need us so much, they trust us so infinitely.

There is no justification for murder of children, never.
María Luján

22 July, 2006 21:02  
Blogger John said...

Mental illness is not rare, and having an autistic child does not protect a parent against psychotic depression, a schizophrenic break, or other thought disorders.

I suspect that mental illness in the parent played a role in each of these tragedies, as it does in the murder of many children. Don't expect the media to identify this btw, sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

31 July, 2006 10:25  
Blogger T.H.E.Probe said...

ForeSam said:

"How many of you people would like to spend your life in an institution with nothing to do but watch cartoons? If you want to play up my assertion that my son would be better off dead than institutionalized, at least include the part where I state my belief that he would go directly to Heaven. Heaven is a hell of a lot better than an institution. Of course, you atheists won't beleive that until you find yourselves in Hell."

No one is better off dead. Only those selfish people around them feel that way. Like I have told you many times, please get help to learn how to mourn over the death of that perfect child who never arrived.

31 July, 2006 13:29  
Blogger Prometheus said...

I have a hard time believing that autistic children are "better off dead". It would be interesting to see what they might say about the matter.

I have an easier time believing that there are better places for them than "...in an institution with nothing to do but watch cartoons.", but I think that is just a reflection of the false dilemma that some of the people engaged in this "debate" adhere to.

The issue is not about whether to "cure" autsitic children or put them in sterile institutions, although those are the only choices offered by some arguing that they have found a "cure". At least part of the question is if the "cures" even exist.

Undoubtably, if a "cure" existed, many parents would opt for it - I would even go so far as to say that almost all would. However, the "cures" that have been offered up so far have not yet been shown to be effective. So the question is not "Do you want to cure your child or have them rot in an institution?", but rather "Does this cure actually work?".

And if the "cures" don't work, then parents are left with the question of what to do with their autistic children.

I think that killing them is a very bad choice.



Prometheus

31 July, 2006 15:58  
Blogger Fore Sam said...

Probe;
The perfect child was with me for 10 months until mercury injured him. Doctors refused to help and it took me some years to gain the knowledge to cure him. Now, he's recovering. The only mourning to be done will be by Eli Lilly when I cure him completely and, thus have the evidence to extract some money from them for denying my son his childhood.

31 July, 2006 17:51  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

The perfect child was with me for 10 months until mercury injured him.

1. More Humpty-Dumpty obfuscation with the term "mercury."

2. Isn't that about the age where symptoms show up? Post hoc fallacy.

Doctors refused to help and it took me some years to gain the knowledge to cure him.

More likely, they didn't tell you exactly what you wanted to hear, so you misconstrued it as a refusal.

Now, he's recovering.

What evidence do you have that it was the chelation that did it? How do you know it wasn't a different cause, like natural improvement?

The only mourning to be done will be by Eli Lilly when I cure him completely and, thus have the evidence to extract some money from them for denying my son his childhood.

Considering your reliance on medieval "data" gathering techniques like anecdotes, I don't think you'll have any more success than homeopaths.

On the legal front, I don't doubt that you could win, but that's what Sophism was all about: Persuading the fallible human judge through the use of rhetorical techniques, rather than evidence and logic.

01 August, 2006 04:21  
Blogger Fore Sam said...

BD;
Most are diagnosed later. That's when he stopped making eye contact and stopped babbling.
At the time (1997), I don't think doctors knew that they had poisoned our kids. It was in 2001 after Amy Holmes told us about the benefits of chelation that doctors refused to help.
I've explained this to you at least a dozen times. My son did not improve at all for 7 years until chelation let him begin developing. If he had been capable of any improvement, there would have been soemthing over that time.
As for legal evidence, I have videotapes and countless witnesses. Of course, my son will be his own best witness if he is able to learn to speak. I can't persuade you with logic but judges are usually a little more open to listening. Also, juries aren't stacked with apologists for the drug industry.

01 August, 2006 12:56  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

It was in 2001 after Amy Holmes told us about the benefits of chelation that doctors refused to help.

Got a reference?

My son did not improve at all for 7 years until chelation let him begin developing.

I wouldn't trust your memory.

As for legal evidence, I have videotapes and countless witnesses.

How do they eliminate natural improvement and other causes?

I can't persuade you with logic...

Try me. Let's start with good evidence.

...but judges are usually a little more open to listening. Also, juries aren't stacked with apologists for the drug industry.

Judges typically aren't trained to evaluate medical evidence. Most juries aren't, either. I've heard of a case where a judge struck a Steve Barrett's testimony from the record because he spends a lot of time collecting evidence that builds negative confidence in homeopathy. Of course, he called that being "biased."

01 August, 2006 15:34  
Blogger Fore Sam said...

BD;
Anyone can evaluate medical evidence if it's presented in plain English. As for the rest, we're right back to you calling me a liar. I don't save references just so anonymous Pharma apologists will believe me. My son will keep improving whether you believe me or not and that's all that matters. Have a nice day.

01 August, 2006 16:04  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

Anyone can evaluate medical evidence if it's presented in plain English.

True, but sometimes the data doesn't agree with the plain English presented.

As for the rest, we're right back to you calling me a liar.

And we're back to you having poor reading comprehension skills.

I don't save references just so anonymous Pharma apologists will believe me.

Translation: You aren't interested in convincing anyone. You're here just to yell at us without showing us the errors of our ways. You're only here to enjoy the sound of your typing, even if your continual evasion convinces us that you're a woo not interested in research.

Perhaps you'd like to rephrase that.

My son will keep improving whether you believe me or not and that's all that matters. Have a nice day.

I never doubted that he was improving. It's my understanding that he would improve whether you chelated or not. If you bothered reading what I typed, rather than performed key word searches, you'd know that I'm doubting the reason for that improvement.

02 August, 2006 04:33  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

Correction: I now remember initially questioning the existence of the improvement, but only from the angle of not trusting Fore Sam's senses and memory. But it's a moot point anyway: The existence or non-existence of improvement under Fore Sam's sloppy monitoring conditions (or sloppy reporting of those conditions, since he doesn't answer simple questions, and has even argued that anecdotes are the basis of medical science.)

To summarize Fore Sam's lack of comprehension:

Obi-Wan Kenobi: "Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them."

Fore Sam: "OOOOOOHHHH! Obi-wan just called Luke a liar!"

James Randi: "Yes, Uri Geller bent the spoon. He probably did it with his hands, not his mind."

Fore Sam: "Randi doubts the existence of the existence of the bent spoon!"

02 August, 2006 05:45  
Anonymous Rehab for drugs said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

09 September, 2006 12:15  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone familiar with keeping your mouth shut?
Pack up and go home?
Leave science to the experts?
Stop pretending to be doctors?
Is skeptico familiar with that?

27 September, 2006 08:40  
Blogger Darren Mallory said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

01 October, 2006 05:09  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

Science isn't an ivory tower pursuit. Anyone can think scientifically.

We aren't going to shut up because we care. Do you suggest that we do otherwise, anonny?

Blind trust that they're "experts" is what quacks want the most.

08 October, 2006 09:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow… Skeptico or Dog or Prometheus( all the same type), we can not do it without you!
You tell it like it is!
Keep it up.
We need you because we can not make up our own minds. We need you!
You know, or your version of science, knows best!
Keep it going

17 October, 2006 09:03  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

We need you because we can not make up our own minds. We need you!
You know, or your version of science, knows best!


1. We're presenting arguments. The only force we're using is logic and evidence. Also, why is it when a skeptic presents an argument, he's described as forcing himself on people, and yet, when a woo does the same they're "just asking questions"? Must be the magic of double standards.

Must be that Ann Landers "It's wrong to destroy someone's belief system by demanding empirical evidence" subjectivist newage solipcistic reality stuff.

2. The scientific method is the best tool we have. If you've got another, bring it.

17 October, 2006 19:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

29 November, 2006 14:42  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

07 January, 2007 15:54  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your thoughtful post, Prometheus, and agreed with most of it. Who can imagine killing her child? Not me. I have a minor but important editorial point. You seem to identify Katie as the killer, rather than the victim. Karen, her mother, was the killer.

While only the killer is legally responsible for his or her act, it has been pointed out elsewhere that there is usually a spike in disabled child murders if the media coverage towards the killer is sympathetic. In this case, sympathy was presented before the crime. We will never know if the film was a factor, however it may have egged her on. It may help her get off.

I believe society bears responsibility for the abuse and murder of autistic children, just as it bears responsibility for turning a blind eye to incest and molestation. Incest and molestation victims used to be stigmatized into silence. Now we incest survivors are speaking out, just as we autistics and Aspies are.

Sappho

27 January, 2007 23:05  

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