Dateline: Stoneham, Massachusetts
There's one in every family - the black sheep, the bad seed, the troubled child who keeps the parents awake at night worrying and praying.
In the household headed by Daniel Kerrigan and his wife Brenda of Stoneham, Massachusetts it was their son Mark. While they reveled in the accomplishments of their two other children, TV producer, Michael, and figure skating Olympic medalist, Nancy, it was Mark who had long caused the couple sleepless nights.
Who knew the heartbreaking secret the famous Nancy Kerrigan's family endured all these years?
While she was winning medals for her breathtaking ice skating and giving her parents three beautiful grandchildren, her older brother was causing the family nothing but sorrow. In 2008, the Kerrigan's had to sue Mark to get him to repay $105,000 dollars they'd loaned him from their retirement fund. The suit was dismissed on a technicality. Even after that they lovingly took Mark back into their home.
When I caught sight of 40 year old Nancy leaving her parents house earlier this week I saw etched in her face the pain and weariness that comes to those who must deal with a mentally ill criminal in the family.
A 28 page court document shows her brother Mark's police record stretches back to at least 2004, pockmarked with charges of marijuana possession, multiple drunk driving charges, episodes of vicious alcohol fueled domestic abuse and a 2-and-a-half year stretch in prison on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon. Over the years when police responded to 911 calls Mark would become belligerent, and taunt them with foul language. Once Mark menaced officers with hunting knives, another he ordered his Rottweiler dog to attack. And, according to police reports, Mark literally begged officers to put him out of his misery. "Shoot me. I want to die. Kill me, please!"
In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 24, 2010 things went from bad to deadly. Mark had been out of prison just about two months and was living in the basement of his parent's tidy Cape Cod home in a quiet cul de sac in Stoneham. The unemployed plumber was getting psychiatric treatment but he'd begun to drink again.
At 1 o'clock in the morning, Mark would tell police, he came upstairs to use the telephone. His father objected. There was a struggle in the kitchen, pictures on the wall were knocked askew and there was blood on the floor near where Daniel's body fell. Responding officers found the 45 year old son hiding in the basement, clutching a bottle of scotch and had to pepper spray him to place him under arrest. Mark admitted he shoved his 70 year old father and put his hands around Daniel's neck. When the old man fell, his son declared, he was "faking it."
Mark's legally blind mother called paramedics but it was too late. Daniel Kerrigan died. It's suspected the autopsy will show he died of a heart attack. Or maybe it was a broken heart.
Mark has now been charged again with assault and battery and has been institutionalized in a psychiatric facility pending further charges. His lawyer said he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder stemming from his military duty "in Egypt" but she offered no proof.
There are countless other American families suffering through similar hardships with uncontrollable family members. They struggle mightily to figure out what to do when things turn ugly. Do they keep the offender close or practice tough love and turn them out until they straighten up? Do they call police knowing it could result in years behind bars for their relative? Many grasp to find a reason for the inexplicable behavior - childhood abuse, addiction or mental defect. There are no easy answers and I offer none, I only recognize the suffering of these families.
No matter what may be at the root of the criminal behavior it certainly can't be excused or mean the perpetrator shouldn't be punished. We can feel for their mental struggle but we cannot let sympathy be the reason they remain free to harm others.
As a stream of family and friends came to call at the Kerrigan family home after Dan's death, among them was a pale and pained looking Nancy who sometimes balanced her young daughter on her hip. The sadness of the scene made me remember that besides her Olympic medal, Nancy Kerrigan may be most remembered for that vicious knee capping attack at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1994. She wailed, "Why, oh why?" over and over. It was an unwarranted and inexplicable act. And so was what happened to her father in his very own kitchen at the hands of his own son.
It leaves the rest of us to wonder, why, oh why?