Dr. Peter Gorski calls it the most painful decision a parent might ever have to make: What do you do when your child has committed a serious crime?
The mother of 16-year-old Nicholas Lemmon Lindsey faced that decision on Tuesday as the net of police seeking an officer's killer tightened around her son. Deneen Sweat told her son to "man up and tell them what happened," she said on Wednesday.
Urging the child to confess "is the only right act," said Gorski, a child welfare expert with the Children's Board of Hillsborough County and a professor of pediatrics, public health and psychiatry at the University of South Florida. "Both to serve the child and protect the community."
Yet Gorski and other experts understand why some parents try to conceal their child's actions. Among the most famous local examples are the parents of Jennifer Porter, the 28-year-old Land O'Lakes elementary school teacher who fled the scene of a 2004 hit-and-run crash after striking four young siblings, killing two. The Porters helped her hide the car and clean it up. Porter eventually pleaded guilty but avoided jail time.
In 2009, 16-year-old Jordan Valdez of Tampa struck a homeless woman with her SUV, then left the woman for dead.
Valdez's parents hired a lawyer and avoided detectives' questions. Later, Valdez pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident with death and was sentenced to probation.
"What they're thinking they're doing is protecting their child," Gorski said. But "it's sending the wrong message. … You're saying it was not a wrongful act.''
Hank and Margaret Arrington did the right thing. Their sons told them they had participated in the shooting of a 20-year-old University of South Florida student in 2001. So the parents drove Tobaris Arrington, 17, and his stepbrother Jabari Armstrong, 22, to the police station.
Arrington was sentenced to 17 years; Armstrong got life.
One son told his mother she should have protected him.
"I protected him,'' Mrs. Arrington said in 2009. "I protected him from himself.''
But the pain stayed with her.
"I do not regret turning in my boys. But it's real, real hard," she said in the 2009 interview.
Parents in such situations are dealing with guilt, sadness, anger and shame — all of which play into their thinking, said Dr. Rahul Mehra, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist in Tampa.
Gorski said children who commit crimes often have a trail of negative behaviors their parents may not have addressed.
Gorski encourages parents to talk with their child. "Tell them 'I really want to help you, and the only right way we can do that is to acknowledge this and confess that something has happened.' "
Parents who turn in children may need help with their own grief. "They should talk about it and get their feelings out through their support system," Mehra said.
"No parent should bear this burden alone," Gorski said.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Richard Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8330.