There was an interesting article in a recent USA Today.
In Georgia, a 33-year-old father is charged with intentionally leaving his toddler son to die in a hot SUV, strapped in his car seat for seven hours.
In Utah, a 39-year-old mother is charged with strangling or suffocating six of her newborns from 1996 to 2006 because, police say, she was addicted to drugs and could not care for them.
Three parents accused of crimes that society considers among the most heinous. All three high-profile incidents occurred this year, raising again the terrible question: What kind of parents intentionally kill their offspring?
A USA TODAY examination of more than three decades of FBI homicide data shows that on average, 450 children are killed every year by their parents. Northeastern University criminologists applied statistical models to the records. USA TODAY analyzed the database for a detailed look at who kills, who is killed and how. Several patterns are apparent:
The vast majority of child victims – three out of four – are under 5. More than a third of all victims are under a year old.
Nearly half of all victims died from physical beatings or other injuries at a parent’s hands.
Fathers are more likely to kill. Men killed six out 10 children, most often beating or shooting them. Fathers were at fault in 75% of cases when children were shot to death by a parent and in 64% of cases when a child was beaten. “Violence is a masculine pursuit,” says Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist.
When mothers kill, they are far more likely to kill victims under the age of 1 than children of any other age. Nearly 40% of all children killed by their mothers were less than a year old.
When a parent is accused of killing a child, it dominates headlines and social media.
“People are fascinated by this,” says Sara West, a forensic psychiatrist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “It’s an unfathomable concept.”
If what Nelson Mandela says is true, our soul as a society is in big trouble.
Wednesday, murder charges were pending in South Carolina against Timothy Ray Jones Jr. He was in custody in Alabama in connection with the deaths of his five children. When Jones was stopped at a checkpoint Saturday, police found chemicals for making meth and other drug paraphernalia in his car. Tuesday, he led police to the bodies, which were in five garbage bags on the side of a road. Police say Jones traveled through multiple states with his children’s bodies in his car.
Justin Ross Harris is charged with murder after leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, in an SUV on a hot June day in Cobb County in northern Georgia. Police say he wanted a child-free life and was sexting women during the day as his son died. Harris says he did not intend to kill his son; he says he forgot to drop him off at day care.
Megan Huntsman was charged in April with killing her newborns from 1996 to 2006. She told investigators she strangled or suffocated six babies, placed them in plastic bags and packed them in boxes in the garage of her home in a suburb of Salt Lake City. She was arrested after her husband found one of the bodies in a white box, sealed with electrical tape, while he was cleaning out the garage.
In Saco, Maine, 33-year-old father Joel Smith appeared to follow a deadly pattern seen repeatedly in the FBI data: In murders with multiple victims, fathers are the culprit 70% of the time.
In July, Smith shot his wife, Heather, 35; his sons, Jason Montez, 12, and Noah Montez, 7; and his daughter Lily Smith, 4, then shot himself. They described Smith as a troubled, suicidal man with financial problems.
Psychiatrists and criminologists say parents who kill their children tend to fit one of five categories:
- A parent suffering a psychotic break.
- A parent who thinks he is killing out of altruism because he doesn’t want a child to grow up without him.
- A parent acting out of revenge against a spouse or partner.
- A parent who kills an unwanted child.
- A parent who kills from neglect or by recklessness.
“They are all twisted perspectives on love, loyalty and altruism,” Levin says. “There are mixed motives in many of these cases.”
Dramatic cases get the headlines, forensic psychiatrist Phillip Resnick says — such as a parent who doesn’t want the responsibility of a child or wants revenge against a partner — but murders in those categories are fewer.
Resnick, who wrote a landmark 1969 study that categorized parents who kill their children, says mothers and fathers kill for different reasons.
Mothers are most likely to kill newborns, he says, because of mental illness such as postpartum depression or because they can’t handle the stress of caring for a baby.
“The day a child is born is the day a child is most likely to be killed by a parent,” he says.
Mothers who kill tend to do so on impulse, and they tend to be younger, the FBI data show. The number of mothers who kill peak at ages 20 to 22 — younger than the national average of age 26 for bearing a first child.
The average age of fathers who kill is 30. They tend to plan the murders, says Levin, the criminologist. They are more likely to kill the entire family, then themselves, he says. Often a murder-suicide is precipitated by a catastrophic loss such as a job layoff or divorce.
“A man sees himself as the main support of a family,” Resnick says. “He may feel like it is his responsibility to not let his family suffer. You may have a severely depressed father who may think his children are better off dead with him.”
Younger children are most often the victims because they are the most vulnerable and can’t fight back, Resnick says. They are the children that a parent has had less time to bond with and the ones who bring more stress because they require the most attention, he says.
As much attention as such a terrible crime gets when a case is in the headlines, the experts say, it still needs more study.
Levin says, “We’re still in the dark in terms of predicting who commits this hideous crime.”
What do you think of these statistics? Is any of this relevant to Ayla’s case?