Generally, I shy away from stories like this.
I don't have the stomach to read about people with disabilities being physically and emotionally manipulated, abused, tortured, killed.
I definitely don't read them over breakfast, and because I don't, I don't write about them on my blog. Call me irresponsible for not doing so, especially given that I'm a parent to a child with special needs. I know that such abuses happen but generally, it's too painful to think about.
This Valentine's Day morning I'm forgetting all that.
This Valentine's Day morning, I read the story of the torturing and killing of 30 year old Jennifer Daugherty over my bowl of Cheerios and while sipping coffee. According to the article, Jennifer had made some new friends. Her family didn't think much of this, didn't ask for details. On Thursday, she told her family about her plans to stay overnight with one of the new friends.
Who killed her. But not before, according to an affidavit mentioned in the article, "[s]he was beaten with a towel rack, vacuum cleaner hose and a crutch, and her body was bound with Christmas decorations .... Police said she was fed vegetable oil, medications and spices in addition to soap and urine."
There are no words (except for one: why?) to even remotely begin to understand such depravity.
What makes this even more chilling is that Jennifer was mentally challenged. At 30, she reportedly had the mental abilities of a 12-14 year old.
And so, knowing that, I braced myself, reading the article, for the comment section. (Which on our local paper's website is usually a verbal food fight of juvenile humor, misinformation, insults, and sarcasm. This kind of free speech might not have been what the Founding Fathers had in mind.)
I'm waiting for the insults, for the finger-pointing at the family members for not watching over Jennifer like a toddler. As if any of us, who are parents or extended family of "normal, typical" 30 year olds, know every single detail of our children's lives, their minute-by-minute plans, their friend's names and criminal histories. If you're that kind of hyper-crazed helicopter parent of a child in their 30s (and we have friends who are, believe you me), more power to you. Maybe.
Maybe Jennifer's story resonates with me, the parent of a child with autism, because Jennifer's life up until Thursday is what we strive for as parents of kids with special needs, don't we? We want them to live independently, to make their own decisions. We want them to be able to navigate public transit, to make their own appointments.
To make their own friends.
Jennifer was doing all that. She was living a life that we all hope for our children, special needs or not. She had a support system in place through a counselor, her family, a community center that she was part of.
And yet we're reminded, on this Valentine's Day morning, that the world is not always a loving place for those with disabilities. That, as parents and professionals who love people with disabilities, we can try to do the right thing, put the right systems in place, and it will never be enough when confronted by a gang with criminal histories.
By evil disguised as a friend.
Photo taken by me 1/23/2010 of a rain wall in the Children's Garden at Longwood Gardens. Copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.