Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Can cases such as Julie Schenecker's be prevented?

She was insane. No, she knew what she was doing. She was on drugs. No, she was off her drugs. She was driven crazy by military intelligence. It was her husband's absence. It was even — God help us, but some idiots are saying it — the kids' fault for pushing her over the brink.

Nobody knows anything.

Nobody ever knows anything. Which never stops us from plunging right ahead, does it?

What happened last week near Tampa Palms was an unspeakable horror. Police say a mother killed her two teenage children. Executed them, even. After picking up her 13-year-old son from soccer practice. As her 16-year-old daughter was bent over her desk doing her homework. Her homework.

They were "mouthy," police say she told them.

How easy it is now to second-guess the authorities who investigated an abuse complaint in November. The daughter confided to a counselor her mother had hit her. The counselor rightly reported it. The police came.

"The child victim has become more verbally abusive to her mother and is in counselling (sic) for it," the police report says. "The victim's mother admitted to popping her daughter in the mouth for her back talking."


Of course in hindsight it clearly seems more than that, multiple instances of slapping and hitting, in one case leaving a bruise, in another a bloody lip.

How many times a day do the police make a call like this? How many parents fight with their teenagers? How many have lost their temper and slapped them? More to the point, how many parents have slapped them and not gone on to murder them? How do you tell the difference?

For some families the whole teenage-year thing is Ozzie and Harriet or the Huxtables, I suppose, but I have not known many of them.

Teenagers screaming that they hate their parents and wish they had never been born — yes.

Two teenagers under the same roof who hate each other in open warfare — yes.

Sons and daughters who have spent their whole life being "good" until somebody flips a switch and they turn into sullen strangers — yes.

And these are good kids.

And usually these are good parents. I have watched their suffering and desperation, and their guilt and bewilderment. What's happening to me? What did I do?

Yet the terrible truth is that other parents are not so good in the first place. That's another kind of tragedy, to watch a good kid with a bad parent, angry, abusive, unloving, unstable or addicted.

Some people are utterly unequipped to deal with it. And some become unequipped along the way. Yet we do not have much of a way of doing anything about it until somebody gets hurt.

The police report says that young Calyx Schenecker "was hoping for a solution between her and her mom" by reporting the slapping. But she didn't get it.

Maybe Julie Schenecker is legally insane, meaning, she didn't know what she was doing was wrong. Maybe she is medically insane but legally guilty anyway. Maybe there is some other deep dark secret that will come out to satisfy everyone's theories. We have courts for that, and sadly we have plenty of time to decide what to do with her.

The question is what to do before the next one.

Can cases such as Julie Schenecker's be prevented? 01/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 31, 2011 10:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours