Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Protecting children should be a parent’s first priority

My column from March 29, 2008

Evil exists in this world. Proof can be found in the epidemic of stories of parents who kill their children.
There is a funeral this weekend for a family of six in Iowa. In Iowa City on Monday, a woman and her four children were found dead in their home. Police believe her husband, recently indicted on federal charges of stealing $560,000, beat his family to death with a baseball bat before killing himself by driving the family minivan into a concrete pillar on Interstate 80.
Last week, a 28-year-old man in Georgia killed his son and twin daughters before killing himself. His son was 3 and his daughters not yet 2.
Last month in California, a man shot his wife, a stepson and his three children before turning the gun on himself. The stepson survived. Police believe it was a domestic violence situation that escalated into murder-suicide.
Last year in Alabama, a man shot and killed himself in front of his estranged wife at her mother’s home during what should have been a custody exchange. She found the body of her 6-year-old son in the man’s car. Her other two children, ages 11 and 4, were clinging to life with gunshot wounds to the head and later died. The man and woman were in the process of divorcing and the the day he killed himself and his children would have been their 12th anniversary.
Last March, in Bedford, Ind., a man killed himself and his 8-year old daughter by slamming his small plane into his former mother-in-law's house. He allegedly told his ex-wife before the crash that he had the girl "and you're not going to get her."
In 2006, an Illinois man killed his two young children by throwing them off the 15th floor of a hotel in South Beach, Fla., and then jumped to his own death. The mother told police she and her husband had been having marital problems, but that the family had been celebrating the couple's 10th wedding anniversary.
Last August in Melbourne, Australia, a man pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder. He allegedly killed his three young sons in 2005 to make his estranged wife suffer “and hate Father’s Day all her life.”
The problem is not limited to fathers. Too many mothers have killed their children. I cannot begin to fathom how a mother could harm any child, especially her own.
Andrea Yates killed her five children in a case that haunts me to this day because her two oldest sons looked so much like my own. Susan Smith drowned her two young sons in 1994. In 2004, a woman smothered her 10-month-old daughter with a stuffed animal before stabbing herself.
Too many more examples of filicide — of a parent killing a child — can be found by doing an Internet search, but I don’t recommend it. The stories will haunt you.
Financial problems and depression led to some of the deaths, but most seem to be related to child custody disputes.
Love has nothing to do with these cases. It has been replaced by something ugly and selfish, an “If I can’t have them neither can you” mentality.
If winning over your ex becomes your prime objective, everybody loses. I guarantee that your children will ultimately pay the price.
I can appreciate the frustrations of dealing with child custody issues, as I share custody of my son. It is not easy, especially when you have to spend a holiday without your child.
In covering police news in Randolph, I see too many reports of child custody disputes where one or both parties have contacted the police to help resolve the problem.
There are no easy answers or solutions to prevent the loss of innocent lives. Requiring people to go through rigorous mental health evaluations and pass parenting classes before being allowed to have kids is not feasible. Family court systems need more funding to employ people to serve as advocates for children in custody cases.
If you are going through a divorce or dealing with custody issues, grow up and don’t let your kids be caught in the middle.
If you know of someone in a child custody case who makes threats of violence or suicide, please take the threats seriously. Urge them to seek counseling and alert the proper authorities who can take steps to intervene. Don’t be a bystander when innocent lives are at stake.

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