Monday, January 31, 2011

Why do mothers kill their kids? (by Suzie)

Probably not because the kids are "mouthy." I'm referring to the case a few miles from me in Tampa, in which Julie Powers Schenecker is accused of shooting her daughter, 16, and son, 13, on Thursday.

The next morning, Schenecker's mother called police, worried that her daughter was depressed. Police found Schenecker on her back porch, covered in blood. Inside, they saw no signs of struggle. They said she had shot her son in the head in her car, and then went inside and shot her daughter in the face. On Friday, after being booked, she was taken from jail to the intensive care unit of a hospital. The AP reports:
As police led Julie Schenecker to a patrol car Friday, she shook uncontrollably, her eyes wide and wild.
Police would say only that she was treated for a condition she had before the shooting. Afterward, she returned to the jail infirmary. She is expected in court today.

When police first interviewed her, she said her teens were mouthy, talked back, etc. The media has seized on this in headlines and ledes (generally the first paragraph of a story). For example, the Today headline reads: "She killed her teenagers because they talked back". The AP says:
The woman who authorities say killed her teenage daughter and son because she was fed up with them talking back and being mouthy will not appear in court Saturday because she's being treated at a hospital for an unknown condition.
Authorities didn't say she killed them because X and Y. Authorities said she told them that that's why she killed her children. There's an important difference, especially when reporters have seen her in an altered mental state and have good reason to suspect mental illness.

Schenecker also told police that she had planned to kill herself, too, but that shows up in fewer stories. Here's a better-written story from the Tampa Tribune, my former employer. Another story notes that it's rare for parents to kill children older than 1. "In most cases, it involves a father or stepfather lashing out in a fit of rage or frustration." Kathleen Heide, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, says mothers who kill older children "usually have a major depression with psychosis," and they plan to kill themselves afterward.
This is a sign of overwhelming despair.
Schenecker was a stay-at-home mother, and her husband is a colonel who was in the Middle East. They had met when both were in U.S. Army Intelligence. The family had moved around, but settled in Tampa in 2008. The father was frequently deployed overseas. Family friends had considered Schenecker a loving and devoted mother.

From Gawker:
She'd written an email to her mother the week before, complaining of depression and trouble with the kids. She was nonetheless able to purchase a gun that same week ...
This isn't the first time this year someone who shouldn't have been in possession of a firearm was able to obtain one without any trouble. But please, don't politicize this tragedy, which has nothing to do with how absurdly easy it is for people to purchase guns in this country, or the frustratingly small number of people with serious depression or other mental illness who receive appropriate or adequate treatment. No, it's an isolated tragedy, just like all the rest of them are.