Monday, April 24, 2006

Twelve-year-old charged with Double Murder

Here is a brief story of a twelve-year-old charged with the double murder of his mother and nine year old brother. I can only imagine the problems this family must have gone through prior to the killings. So many times, when kids this young have emotional problems with anger, people laugh, make light or think there is nothing to worry about. I once had a nine-year-old boy who threatened to kill his principal--I called the principal to warn him of the impending danger only to be laughed at and told that "no nine-year-old could be that dangerous." It was 1996. Only after the rash of school shootings started and the principal found this young student waiting for him in his office, crouched behind his chair, did he follow up to ask for my help. Sometimes, people take the violent threats of children too seriously, but sometimes, they do not take them seriously enough. The hard part is knowing the difference.Too bad no one stopped this tragedy before it happened.

Update: Several commenters have asked some good questions about why young kids kill, if they can be treated and how to tell the difference between a threat and real violence. First of all, kids under 14 do not kill often--take a look at the stats from the Office of Juvenile Justice. However, when they do, there can be a variety of reasons. Some have been abused, some are mentally ill and some are just NDG (no damn good--the more sophisticated psychological term is psychopath) or maybe they are a combination of all three.

The 12-year-old in this case was described by neighbors as "a bully" who told others not to mess with him--because he was crazy:

Ten-year-old Jasmine Williams describes the accused as "a bad kid" who would often hit people.

Sixteen-year-old Kel Taylor says the boy would say - quote - "I'm crazy. Don't mess with me."

I have found in my interviews with violent kids that many of them resort to saying they are crazy so that others will leave them alone or be afraid of them. However, in some cases, kids can just be Conduct Disordered--that is, they frequently display physical aggression towards others, have disturbed peer relationships, steal and lie. These cases are the hardest to change and those children who display persistent symptoms prior to puberty are more likely to develop adult Antisocial Personality Disorder and to possibly have more problems later in life. This is why as experts, forensic psychologists use instruments such as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist--Youth Version, to determine the extent of psychopathy. These instruments, interviews and other data help psychologists to assist the courts or agencies with recommendations on how dangerous a child might be (which is hard as violence prediction is not a hard science) and how to treat them.

So what do you do to determine if a child's threats are real or just words? Listen! Often kids will talk if they think you can stand hearing what they have to say. Case in point: kids often come in my office and say that the adults in their milieu get so upset or misunderstand their behavior that they shut down and/or just act out. If you hear kids saying upsetting things, get used to it. We are so afraid of anger in children that most adults shut down or get scared when confronted with anger that is so deep, a child will resort to murder. Some kids will talk "crazy" just to shock people but underlying this is, why is that important to the child? Find out.

If you hear a child describe feelings of hopelessness, suicidal feelings, depression or anger that lasts longer than a few weeks, contact a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker who specializes in children. Get recommendations from parents at school or church etc. who have had results from the professional. As experts with children, clinical child psychologists and other specialists can use psychological instruments to help get a snapshot of a child's inner feelings and thoughts as well as if they may have suicidal or violent tendencies.

I believe that suicide and homicide are intertwined at times, especially with kids who want to kill at school or commit mass murder (again, rare) and the truth is that these kids hurt and they figure they will take down all the others who made them feel this way. The school stands for everyone who has done them wrong (whether real or imagined) and they conclude that the only way to deal with their angry feelings is to bring them to a climatic conclusion. These cognitive thoughts must be addressed in order to help the child cope with the world around them. Sometimes these children have poor interpersonal skills and view the world in a very weird and idiosyncratic way. Yes, it is fine to be eccentric and odd but to be this way and think that killing others is the answer is not a good coping strategy. The community and milieu the child is in is also important to address--is the commmunity letting the child get away with delinquent acts? Is the school allowing bullying to take place or engaging in hypocritical behavior and rules (such as all those fighting are suspended without finding out what happened?)

Finally, if you see a kid in your community who is a troublemaker and engaged in delinquent acts, do not think you are doing anyone a favor to keep it to yourself or ignore the behavior. Try calling the Juvenile Court and reporting the unruly behavior--at least there will be a record. One of the problems is that there is little recourse for parents like the mother in the above case--parents tell me all of the time that their 11 or 12 year old is threatening to kill them and no one will do anything. As a parent, you can try to get help through the Juvenile Court in your town or call and see if they have a clinic or services that you could seek out to assist with an unruly child. The best management is someone who can be a liason between home, community and school. If problems are dealt with early on, the kid and those in their path will have less chance of becoming involved in a violent act that may have consequences for years to come.


Blogger John Doe said...

This comment is a little tangential, but when I was a kid there were all sorts of worries about children being programmed to violence from all the awful things they could watch on TV and at the cinema. Looking back, this now seems almost laughable - could we really have been convinced by those crummy effects, bad acting, etc. Well, yes, we were. Today, however, as a full grown adult, I will often find myself changing channel because what I see is just too real. Saving Private Ryan is, of course, the archetype. I remember not being able to stop watching that movie for the sheer unadulterated horror of it. I don't want to watch it again. Ever. And the horror has, as it will, moved into the mainstream. I like CSI as much as the next guy, but it's still pretty gruesome, but there are any number of shows out there showing mayhem and death of all sorts and there seems to be some sort of competition for making each shot more real than the last. But no-one seems much bothered about what the children see any more, the concern is laughed off when it's expressed at all. Did our generation somehow prove that TV violence doesn't make kids violent, or have we just absorbed it and grown numb to it, unable to connect it with some 12 year old offing his mom & bro? Kids will do all sorts of horrible things, what limits them is their imagination, but their imagination is stimulated and limited itself by what they see around them. If what they see has no limit, why should they?

5:57 PM, April 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is nothing so dangerous as the will to disbelieve. The fear of the islamofascists vis-a-vis the Danish cartoons is a case in point.

As a counselor, I'm always amazed when warnings of possible violence are ignored sometimes 'till almost too late, sometimes 'till too late.

10:25 PM, April 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how do we distinguish the real threats from the attention seekers?

12:16 AM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thirty-five years ago, when my then-husband and I worked with a youth group, we had a girl who expressed some suicidal thoughts to us. She clearly did have some problems. We were advised *always* to take such talk seriously, and not to try to determine whether the person was merely seeking attention. Is it not true that someone in the second category who finds herself being taken seriously may decide, "Uh-oh...I've gone too far!" and back off? Meanwhile, the experts can be making the determination.

What is the current thought of an expert?

12:34 AM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A while back, a friend and I discussed a mutual acquaintance, who had just been convicted of arson and assaulting a police officer. My friend pointed out that the guy came from a good family, and wondered how he got to be such a hood. I pointed out that he was a hood when I knew him in the third grade. As far as I can tell, he was born a hood. What can one do about it?

10:40 AM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...

Cousin Dave,

Some kids are just "born hoods." I think the question then becomes, what do we do with such people? Psychologists always want to pathologize everything and turn it into a mental illness that can be resolved. Unfortunately, there are cases where this will not happen. There is a great book, "Inside the Criminal Mind," by Stanton Samenow, a forensic psychologist who talks about how criminals think differently than the rest of us. It is trying to change these beliefs about the world that is necessary to reduce criminal behavior.

However, that said, there are people who are psychopaths who are resistant to psychotherapy and treatment and in fact, it can make them worse. Part of the problem is that our society sometimes encourages this behavior as we are told not to judge children or punish anyone except with a timeout--the psychopath's joke. Therefore, some who are "hoods" try to get away with as much as possible. People think that delinquency is always a "cry for help" when in reality, it is at times, the result of feeling entitled to getting what they want, using people and viewing others as objects to be manipulated. If training starts early and children who have these psychopathic traits are treated very early, there is more of a chance they will not harm others.

10:59 AM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how would the countervailing power of violence have worked with him? What woudl have happened, if, instead of counselling him, or doing psychoanalysis, adults would have responded in the language he understood and liked? That is, if he had been subjected to severe beatings, instead? Would he have gotten the message that he couldnt be swaggering around, making threats and beating other kids?

History (and by that I mean ignoring the mantra of relevance and looking more than a generation or two back) indicates the anser is yes. For generations, society kept order quite effectively by such methods. Then the social sciences came along and told us this was not the way. Interesting that every problem the social scientists purported to address has increased in lockstep with the number and influence of social scientists. Coincidence, or causal relationship?

12:13 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


I guess instead of severe beatings--I would call what you are describing as a "natural consequence" to bad behavior. I think it can work in certain cases. I think that if we start early and kids are given the message that bad behavior will not be tolerated each and every time they act up--they will get the message that it is not wise to abuse others.

We have definitely divorced bad behavior from the negative consequences they used to incur which means that a certain number of kids will act up when before, they would not have dared. When I say act up, I mean more than being a kid--behavior that tramples on the rights of others would count. We do let kids get away with that and often punish those who try to put a stop to the behavior rather than the kid, resulting in people just shrugging and letting kids do what they want.

Think about it, how many people do you see do anything when a kid acts up anymore? Certainly, "beating" a kid would not be not be tolerated, but often a reprimand is even dissaproved of and might even get one in legal trouble. Just try saying anything to a bratty kid in a restaurant or store. We are so indulgent of children and their "self-esteem" that we are allowing bad behavior to flourish and calling it a pathology when it might just be something else.


I think (hope) the influence of social scientists is on the way out. I know that in my profession, psychologists are treated with less and less respect. For example, in court, juries know that psychologists tend to be "bleeking hearts" and discount what they say. It is a shame because, sometimes, we do have useful information to add. The world of psychology is so insulated that they do not even realize how ridiculous the field has become to the mainstream of society.

12:19 PM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did our generation somehow prove that TV violence doesn't make kids violent,

What I've read is that for media violence to breed real world violence, two factors must exist -
The media violence must be portrayed as justified, and the individual must see a parallel justification in his reality.

TV has always had violence, but that violence used to be either justified by traditional moral imperatives, or portrayed in a condemning fashion. Wile E. Coyote was a bad guy, and all his violent schemes turned around to hurt him. Crooks who commited violent crimes were brought to justice, and heroes only used violence when necessary and on evildoers.

Contrast "The Lone Ranger" or even "SWAT" with "Pulp Fiction" - now, criminals and other evildoers are the protagonists, and criminal behavior is portrayed non-judgmentally at best and as laudable at worst.

the truth is that these kids hurt and they figure they will take down all the others who made them feel this way

Or maybe, they're just exhibiting a well reasoned response to a social mantra of rampant moral relativism, which offers them no context for recognizing killing a parent as morally different from stepping on a spider. Many of these killings make perfect sense, if you assume there is no such thing as an objective standard of right or wrong.

12:22 PM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People think that delinquency is always a "cry for help" when in reality, it is at times, the result of feeling entitled to getting what they want, using people and viewing others as objects to be manipulated.

They'll take away your credentials for that sort of talk.

12:24 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


There are other psychologists who feel the same way--Staton Samenow and other very good psychologists who study criminal behavior. As far as I know, they still have their credentials.

12:39 PM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Contrast "The Lone Ranger" or even "SWAT" with "Pulp Fiction" - now, criminals and other evildoers are the protagonists, and criminal behavior is portrayed non-judgmentally at best and as laudable at worst."

Yeah--look at "Ocean's Eleven" and "-- Twelve." Clever, witty, good-looking, charming, brilliant (plan, that is)...crooks.

2:19 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger John Doe said...

There have always been charming crooks in the media - The Italian Job, The Ladykillers, etc - and, in his own righteous way, even the Lone Ranger was an "outlaw", was he not (or am I thinking of Zorro, I confuse easily these days)? I think the moral content is certainly an issue, and sometimes morality is confusing. In Ocean's Eleven, Andy Garcia was legal, but not a nice guy (hey, he owned casinos). The bank robbery genre has always been about naughty people getting away with what they shouldn't in the face of bad people who're on the side of the law. Robin Hood is surely the archetype.

Dweeb wrote: "What I've read is that for media violence to breed real world violence, two factors must exist -
The media violence must be portrayed as justified, and the individual must see a parallel justification in his reality."

This seems like a reasonable equation, but I doubt that it's the only one. Nevertheless, the conclusion is that what should concern us is media portraying violence as justified and making it as real as possible. I don't know about you guys, but I see that all the time on my TV.

3:04 PM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just try saying anything to a bratty kid in a restaurant or store.

I had a parent (no older than my youthful 24) offer to fight me because I told his bratty kid, who was running around causing a massive disturbance, to "shut the hell up". They guy said we could "settle it outside". I declined, talked him out of wanting to fight me, called him a jerk, and went about my day.

Weirdest, most surreal experience I've had in a while.

6:33 PM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that in the original "Ocean's Eleven" fate found a way to deny the crooks their unlawful gain. In older films, when there were criminal protagonists, like Zorro, they were fighting an obvious moral injustice, and thus criminals in the same sense as the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Remember, morality and legality are not the same. However, if you look at the protagonists in "Pulp Fiction," or the player avatars in Grand Theft Auto, there is nothing morally redeeming about them or their actions. Dirty Harry never shot anyone who didn't have it coming by traditional standards of morality.

Violence in and of itself is not wrong. It took a LOT of violence to stop Hitler. The prospect of violence must always be weighed in a moral context, and that is what is missing in our media culture today.

6:41 PM, April 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know how in the name of Blogland it could have happened, but my one-line comment ended up at the end of someone else's comment (I don't remember who really mentioned "The Lone Ranger," et al.), with my name above the whole thing. I did not intend to plagiarize anyone else's thoughts!

12:05 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


Well, maybe a podcast with Dr. Hare would be a good idea! I have attended his workshops and found him to be objective and fair. Here is what Hare says about Psychopathy in women which he has included in his new Psychopathy checklist manual:

As of this writing, Hare says, "There's been quite a bit of research on female psychopaths. I have data in the new manual, including percentile tables, for 1200 female offenders in North America, many of whom are African-American. The scores are a few points lower than for male offenders, but otherwise the distributions of scores are very similar. The correlates and the predictive power of the PCL-R are much the same for female and male offenders. For example, female psychopathic offenders re-offend at a high rate compared to other female offenders."

I imagine what you are asking is if the evaluator could be biased when evaluating a female perpretrator and the answer is yes, if they are determined to be or have certain biased opinions that they wish to spread like a virus.

On the Hare,it is up to the evaluator to probe during the interview or use documents and third party interviews to get information--so it makes it somewhat more objective. The training with the Hare is quite intense and one must be competent to use it in court. I would hope this would make it more objective.

7:09 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger Melissa Clouthier said...

I wonder where the father of the boy who killed his mom and brother was living. Were the parents divorced? Was the father a weak/non-existent presence in the boy's life? Was he properly male-gender socialized? Did the father abandon the family? Was/Is he aggressive himself? Does/did the father treat the mother with aggression?

Children come out of the womb with a personality, but to attribute a "bad seed" character to a newborn is a stretch. If the child is challenging and the parent's weak, incompetent or unstable themselves, the difficult child will be lost in a turbulant sea that he or she might not be capable of managing.

Some children need strong consequences, delivered every time an infraction occurs, without fail. Anything less will be perceived as weakness and be exploited. The kid will view himself as in charge, because, well, he is in charge--no one will stop him or is afraid to. These children require very strong and determined parents--a team, unified in dealing with the little brute or brutette.

The cute 2 year old tantrum that is indulged, is not so cute at 12. It amazes me how often truly rotten behavior is actually encouraged by idiot parents. These same people profess stunned innocence when their kid ends up in the Clink for what everyone else views as the natural progression of things.

As far as Hare's Psychopathy checklist, it is a labelling system, but the classification system is so broad that just about anyone, on a bad day, qualifies. Fast Company, for example, did a cover splash, "Is Your Boss A Psychopath?" And everyone who read the test said, "S/he sure is! And I think my spouse is, too!" I recognize that Psychologists weren't doing the assessment, but the diagnosis is so potentially damaging itself, (hopeless, no treatment possible) that it should be a very rare diagnosis, but it's not.

(There always seems to be a diagnosis du jour: Depression, Anxiety, remember when Multiple Personality Disorder was all the rage?, Manic Depression/Bi-polar Disorder--although that's slipping, right now Borderline Personality Disorder seems to be a favorite.)

It is very easy to label a 12 year old bully turned murderer. The label, in fact, is very convenient for the people (his parents, his teachers, his coaches) who either contributed to the problem or ignored it as it developed.

By the way, this reminds me of a kid my mom babysat growing up who was a biter. She was vicious and nothing would stop her. So one day, after she had clamped down on my arm, I took hers and returned the favor. She never bit anyone again.

Some kids, like the bully who got tuned up and now is a College Professor in Canada, learn by experience and THEN they have empathy. The key is that the kid learns empathy one way or another.

10:10 AM, April 27, 2006  
Blogger Melissa Clouthier said...

Sorry for the long-winded comment. It looks much worse now that it's published!

10:10 AM, April 27, 2006  
Blogger Melissa Clouthier said...


The reason I bring up the Father is that he is notably absent from the information, though I looked to find it. A mother and sister are killed by a violent boy. Where is the father? Yes, women, too can and are violent and often initiate physical aggression. My point is that while focusing on diagnosing the child seems foremost on everyone's mind, not enough thought is given to the family system that produces a child-murderer. These kids do not grow up in a vacuum.

Bias occurs everywhere in the health care system JW, not just psychology or psychiatry. Women are often told that physical symptoms are "in their head", heart disease has traditionally been terribly underdiagnosed in women. For political reasons, not health reasons, AIDs and Breast Cancer get lots of money and attention while bigger, more wide-spread killers are ignored. Bias.

Every practitioner must take great care to avoid bias. It takes constant vigilance.

9:52 PM, April 28, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's difficult for adults to actually even try to relate to kids, in particular to pre- or early adolescents.

When I was in high school, I was surrounded by people who were unhappy and suffering from various forms of misery, depression, bad home life, clinical mental illness and crazy hormones. But some of them in particular had not yet developed ANY moral compass. So I'd know kids who were suicidal, and then I knew other kids who were hear that and get angry and say "why not kill your parents instead of yourself? It's their fault you are miserable! it's their (fill in the blank..divorce, alcoholism, financial problems, etc.)"

These kids meant it. They honestly didn't see anything wrong with killing adults (or other children) and they saw other people as responsible for the factors causing such terrible misery.

In a sense, they weren't wrong; those people really WERE causing the adolescents immense psychological pain. But what was wrong was the lack of moral notion that life is valued; that murder is wrong; that vengeance is wrong; that harming others is wrong.

I think that many of these kids are so morally stunted in addition to emotionally crippled. They are not receiving ANY help developing that moral sense, and therefore nothing helps them to actually participate in society and make sense of the relationship between their behavior and their emotions.

Many of us felt intense rage, anger, and depression as adolescents. But the idea that we would ACT on that didn't come into play for a variety of other reasons. Those reasons help us to understand what's normal, what's appropriate, what needs controlling, and fundamentally, when we need treatment.

As a side note, I'm beginning to wonder if it's happenstance for adolescents with no moral guidance to as adults develop a normal moral compass. Perhaps they still don't, but they school their behavior better? Or is this another case of, as Dalrymple woudl say, "our culture, or what's left of it" ?

12:46 AM, April 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

--how do you distinguish the real threats from the attention seekers?

Why should you? If you really are seeking attention, won't you go to the same threatening length?

Maybe a person with suicide ideation doesn't REALLY want to die, but they'll take a bottle of pills anyway, because it'll a) either get them attention, or b) it'll kill them. Without it being A REAL threat, it won't really get them attention will it?

Over and over, kids will escalate their behavior to get a reaction. That's why distinguishing the threat from attention seeking isn't really the point.

12:49 AM, April 29, 2006  
Blogger Serket said...

Dr. Helen said: "There is a great book, "Inside the Criminal Mind," by Stanton Samenow, a forensic psychologist who talks about how criminals think differently than the rest of us. It is trying to change these beliefs about the world that is necessary to reduce criminal behavior."

This is an interesting book and I wrote a review about it.

vicki said: "Yeah--look at "Ocean's Eleven" and "-- Twelve." Clever, witty, good-looking, charming, brilliant (plan, that is)...crooks."

Ocean's 13 is scheduled for release on June 8, 2007.

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