Remember the chilling movie, The Bad Seed starring the blonde, pigtailed Patty McCormack? She was a beautiful child but so devoid of feeling she randomly killed people she didn't like.
Could that be what authorities in Arizona are facing with the 8 year-old boy who confessed to killing his father and a family friend?
We've watched this story play out for about a month now and I've hesitated to write about it because I thought any day now we'd learn the awful truth behind what motivated this child. How does a young boy pick up a 22 caliber single action rifle and pump four bullets into his own father and then six more bullets into a man who rents a room in the family home?
Two dead and a little boy left squirming in a police interrogation room with no familiar face to guide him on how to answer the officer's kind but relentless questions. Police say the boy's step-mother gave them permission to question the child alone.
Everyone who's even peripherally involved in law enforcement knows you don't question a defenseless suspect without a lawyer present or at the very least, in the case of a child, without a parent in the room. It will only come back to bite you in the end. But let's put aside the short-sightedness of those well meaning officers who were just trying to get at the truth.
The boy first told a story of finding both men nearly dead inside the house when he came home from school. Then he admitted he had shot them to "end their suffering" and as a child who had been taught the finer points of hunting by his Dad this seemed plausible. But something made the officers keep pushing and in less than an hour the tiny suspect in the chair began to crumble and he admitted the unthinkable.
The boy's birth mother lives in Mississippi and so immediately after the deaths, the child, who was not considered a suspect, was allowed to spend that awful night with his grandparents. Upon learning of his confession later in the week his grandmother was quoted in a court document as saying, "I knew this would happen! They were too hard on him," a reference to the boy's father and step-mother.
Indeed, the boy had told police he got in trouble "most of the time" and had been spanked "five times by his step-mother" the night before the fatal shooting. And there are reports that the boy told Child Protective Services that he'd kept a written tally of every single time he had been spanked. He reportedly decided that 1,000 spankings would be his limit and after that he vowed to do something. Interestingly, the Arizona Republic reports that the list of items taken from the boy's home did not include any such tally page of spankings.
One thousand whacks might explain the boy's explosive response, I suppose. But something tells me there's more to the back story. Was the other man in the house -- the boarder -- responsible for some of the boy's angst? Was their some sort of sexual activity going on in the home that prompted this deadly reaction? Might it have been a horrible attempt to get attention from his absentee mother?
Or maybe the kid is one of those 'bad seeds' we've heard about? A forensic psychiatrist pal of mine says, "No way."
Dr. Keith Ablow has evaluated many killers and has testified as an expert witness countless times. He reminds us that other children of this young age have inexplicably confessed to murders they did not commit and the system should proceed carefully with this child. (It seems the system is. Multiple mental evaluations have been ordered for the boy before the courts decide exactly how to proceed.)
If the child is guilty, Dr. Ablow says, there could be physical reasons for what he did. Maybe he has a brain tumor or another medical problem, such as reaction to mediation or an infection of the cerebrospinal fluid that coats the brain. But chances are, says Dr. Ablow, the trigger for the murders will be found somewhere in the boy's emotional pathology.
"In sixteen years practicing psychiatry, I have never met a murderer who was born evil. In every case, I eventually learned the circumstances that extinguished that person's empathy."
So we are left wondering what could have happened to a boy in just 8 short years that would cause him to loose all empathy, become detached enough and desperate enough to pick up a rifle and pump ten bullets into two people.
I think it's really important we learn the why of these murders -- if only to help other hopeless children who see no other way out but violence.
Diane Dimond's website is: www.DianeDimond.net -- she can be reached at: Diane@DianeDimond.net