There has been a story in the news briefly about a woman named LaShanda Armstrong, who deliberately drove her minivan into the Hudson River, drowning herself and three of her children. In a post on the MSNBC website, the writer portrays the mother more the victim than the children, suffering from all kinds of stresses and syndromes that led to “understandable” and “nonjudgmental” homicidal impulses. I wonder if people writing this stuff actually understand just how grotesque they sound. It seems that this killing was one of those “revenge” killings—you know, the mother kills the children to hurt the father. The father of three of the children in this case was not living with the mother (perhaps for good reason), and seems to have breached the etiquette of the reportedly most impoverished community in the state of New York by allegedly “cheating” on her. It was not explained, however, why she tried to kill the oldest boy (who survived), since he was another man’s son.
Armstrong was not in fact suffering from any of the usual “syndromes,” and if she was suffering from the stresses of motherhood, this flies in the face of the usual saintly stereotypes used to describe black mothers. A recent study states that 59 percent of black mothers have children from more than one father (suggesting that they are “cheating” themselves); furthermore, children are viewed not as “burdens” but as possessions of unconditional love in an otherwise uncaring society, filling a void in one’s life—particularly in impoverished communities where “careers” are seldom an option (I am, admittedly, making a great many assumptions here). But in the Armstrong case, there came a point where she no longer saw the children as hers, but his. Three of the children were a part of him, and she hated him, so she hated them. She wasn’t going to let them live, and she couldn’t live knowing that she killed them. This qualifies as a tragic case with no simple answers even about where culpability does not fall.
But other cases of child-killing by mothers are simple to understand. In Florida this past January, Julie Schenecker, wife of a U.S. Army colonel and living in an upscale, gated community, shot to death her teenage son and daughter for “mouthing off” and being “disrespectful”—something that she told investigators she intend to “take care of.” The daughter was shot twice in the head while she was doing her homework on a computer. A police spokesperson stated that "I think we will never understand how or why a mother could take the lives of her children. That was the only reason she provided to our detectives.” Huh? She gave you all the reasons you needed to know. Isn’t it just possible that this person was filled with an almost psychotic self-obsession, self-pity and perhaps acting out an expression of her "power" over the kids? One of the latest parenting fads is showing parents without parenting skills how to "deal" with children who sass; I'm fairly certain that using a handgun is not part of the course work, although something tells me that Schenecker would have lost patience after page 2. Hopefully she will not suffer the same “fate” as our next contestant.
We have been told that one of those “instincts” that mothers have under stress is having “protective” responses toward their children. Or is this just another myth perpetuated by a women’s studies program? In the Andrea Yates case, we were told that she was “insane.” So was Charles Manson. There has been so much bias and sympathy toward Yates that there is little to be understood by a simple recitation of the so-called facts of her case that the media has permitted. Her husband, Russell Yates, has been demonized for “ignoring” the “issues” that would later develop in their marriage, but one fact not generally known is that Yates herself insisted on having “as many children as nature allowed.” Yates’ “issues” did not become apparent until she began to have a close “relationship” with a street preacher named Michael Woroniecki, who preached Apocalypse and Doomsday for apparently everyone except himself and his family. Although Russell Yates also knew Woroniecki, he apparently was not as enamored by his teaching. In a 2002 story in the Dallas Morning News, a former follower of Woroniecki, David De La Isla, related that he believed the preacher was “a true prophet of God.” He was “initially attracted to the message that the true path to salvation was through Jesus Christ but not through any organized religion." De La Isla “quit his job and moved back home with his parents and canceled wedding plans based on suggestions from Mr. Woroniecki. But he said he became frustrated, to the extent that he considered suicide, by constant feedback that he was nowhere close to where he should be in his spiritual development. ‘When you truly believe a prophet from God says you're going to Hell, that's a lot of negative baggage to carry around,’ said De La Isla. ‘You find out just him [Woroniecki] and his family are the only ones who make it.’"
Yates own family was disturbed by her adherence to Woroniecki’s preaching. The psychiatrists who treated her or testified at her trial may well have been incorrect in the usual diagnoses of “syndromes” that only women seem to suffer from, given De La Isla’s testimony that would suggest that a weak mind would be particularly vulnerable to such talk—but not necessarily “insane.” Not knowing the difference between right and wrong is one thing; applying religious “law” that diverges from secular law because one wants to escape responsibility of real life is another thing. And not all women who suffer from what is called postpartum depression kill their children—it is a rare occurrence that can only occur in conjunction with other variables. Nor was Russell Yates ever accused of “mental” or physical abuse—just “willful neglect” of her supposed condition. Even the therapist who advised against having another child did so in concern for Yates' “well-being,” not because she feared for the lives of the children; it would have been criminally negligent not to report such fears. No one, apparently, knew what Yates had planned until she actually did it. Murder rarely is announced before it occurs. We must remember that Yates didn’t try to kill herself, and allowed her attorneys to cop an insanity plea rather than pay the full measure for her crime; ultimately, her act was one of extreme selfishness. The fact is that the physical act of holding down a child in water to drown must have been a most horrific death for the child; it is an act utterly without mercy or compassion. And yet this woman is still viewed as a “victim” and her husband portrayed as a “villain,” as was also suggested in a most biased and untruthful “Law and Order” episode that was later based on the case.