June 28, 2001
WHO IS TO BLAME WHEN CHILDREN ARE KILLED BY THEIR MOTHER?
A personal view by Jeremy Reynalds
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
Albuquerque, NM (ANS) -- Some of the coverage in a national news magazine
last week's tragic shooting in Houston of five children by their mother was
couched in distinctly spiritual terms.
Trying to describe what motivated the 36-year-old Andrea Yates to murder
children, Newsweek Magazine said she must have been "possessed by a demonic
energy," as she "methodically" killed her children, "laying them out on the
bed wrapped in sheets like little Christian martyrs."
Moving on to the problem in general of mothers killing their children,
Newsweek commented, "About 200 children are killed by their mothers every
year, according to Justice statistics. Sometimes moms blame the devil. Or
they think they are saving their children from a hellish life by sending them
Newsweek wasn't the only publication trying to find answers for its readers.
In a copyrighted article in the Houston Chronicle, Houston psychiatrist Dr.
Jay Tarnow said, "With psychosis, people are paranoid, they're out of touch
with reality, they hear voices -- they may even hear God telling them to do
Tarnow added, "Didn't God tell Abraham to tie up his son, Isaac, to slay
as a sacrifice? ... Then God said, 'OK, get the ram instead.' I'm not saying
Abraham was psychotic. But I am saying that if people are God-fearing and
think they hear God telling them to do something -- sometimes they will do
Whatever the twisted motivation behind Yates' killing of her children,
now looking at a capital murder charge that could possibly mean the death
penalty. A new twist on the bizarre case occurred earlier this week when a
Houston television station citing unnamed sources reported that Yates was
pregnant. Not surprisingly, the report was denied by Yates' attorneys, who
said they were on top of the case and were not even aware of a pregnancy test
But while the pundits pontificate and the news magazines ruminate about
finally drove Yates over the edge, what are other Americans saying? I thought
I'd go to an America on Line bulletin board to take a look. I found 674
messages. Here's the first post I ran across. It read (sic),"My 7 year old
response was he was going to bed last night and said...Mom, Should I kiss you
goodnight. I said YES Aaron. Why would you say that... He said are you going
to KILL me or DROWN ME like that mom did!!!!! Its sick and she deserves to
be punished the way the kids were!!!"
Commenting on the statement that Yates is alleged to suffer from post partum
depression, another response on the same bulletin board read, (sic) "Thanks
to today's society and out of control legal system, it seems to be excusable
to commit the unheard of, and with enough research, you can find a reason to
justify it, packaged in a nice little box of a medical name/condition/disease
... two of my sister's suffered from what is called PPD, but they didn't kill
their kids, they were a little moody and got over it."
That's the issue, isn't it? Yates didn't HAVE to kill those children
did anyway. As someone wrote on the same AOL bulletin board, "Postpartum or
not (she) admitted to doing it. She knows what she has done, it is not like
she woke up from a trance and has no idea. She deserves the death
penalty...she was coherent enough to call the police, she deserves to die."
And dangers associated with the insanity defense are striking some chords
with the folk in Bangor, Maine. They think back to 1954, when the then
24-year-old Constance Fisher drowned three of her children in the bathtub --
Richard, 6, Daniel, 4, and Deborah, 1. Fisher was found not guilty by reason
of insanity and spent five years at a mental institution, during which time
according to media reports her husband Carl Fisher petitioned vociferously
for her release.
Then tragedy struck again. According to the Bangor Daily News, "In
the second time in his life, Carl Fisher, then 33, returned home from his job
at Maine Central Railroad to find that his wife had once again killed all of
their children. The children were the same ages as their first three --
Kathleen, 6, Michael, 4, and Nathalie, 9 months. All had been drowned in the
There was yet still more tragedy to come. Again according to the Bangor
News, "Fisher remained at Augusta Mental Health Institute until October 1973,
when at the age of 44 she walked away from the hospital. Officials were
concerned she was suicidal. Her body was found five days later. She had
drowned in the Kennebec River."
We live in a culture where many people play the so-called "blame game,"
tragic activity where nobody ever wants to accept the consequences for their
actions. Kill your babies, get a lawyer, and blame the action on postpartum
depression so bad that it made you insane. Get in your car drunk and run over
a family out for an evening stroll and blame it on mental illness. End up
homeless by refusing to work and blame your predicament on your experience in
Vietnam, an angry mother, an abusive father or poor potty training.
So what IS the answer? Well, we could start by calling a halt to the "blame
game." I don't think anyone would question that both Andrea Yates and
Constance Fisher were troubled. But so troubled that they had to murder their
children? Did anyone MAKE them commit those heinous acts? I say no, and with
that in mind our justice system needs to take corresponding action. Such
steps will result in Andrea Yates facing her maker SOONER rather than LATER!
Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy
Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter.
(www.joyjunction.org) He has a master's degree in communication from the
University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education
at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and
lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He may be contacted by e-mail at
This article comes from...ASSIST NEWS SERVICE
Good News and Bad News
The following is quoted from Breaking the News by Anton Holland:
"Most of us have the tendency to fall into the trap of hiding bad news. Maybe it's because most people are optimists. Many people postpone the revelation of bad news because they feel that the longer they put it off, the more chance they'll have of solving the problem and therefore making the bad news irrelevant. What usually happens under these circumstances is that a person realizes that the problem that they are immersed in will only be solved by nothing short of divine intervention, and that they must finally confront the decaying situation.
SOME RAN EAST...SOME RAN WEST
by Benford E. Standley
Read I Ran West for more on the Saga that Benford Standley
has been on riding on in the name of children and youth
"TRUTH IS LIKE A TORCH...
FROM IT WE SHIELD OUR EYES
FOR FEAR OF BEING BURNED"
in the sand
Infanticide before WW 3
Their Own Words
Poems and words from the streets
Sins of the Fathers
The Throwaway Child
What happened in Houston?
Down and out in L.A.
an ongoing saga of the homeless
Foster Lack of Care