Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Lost: Remembering Jennifer Daugherty

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.

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.


Yogi♪♪♪ said...

My wife and I also have a child with special needs and we have similar hopes and fears. We want him to make friends but we wonder about those friends. Not everybody is good hearted. The heartless can be deceiving.

K a b l o o e y said...

This post makes me consider the unique challenges her family and those with special needs kids face, but also how families are all alike. Isn't every mom's greatest fear that something horrible will happen to one of her children, something that happens in an instant when she wasn't there. Maybe something that could have been prevented if she'd been that helicopter hovering mom -- the mom she vowed not to be. What a terrible, wrenching story.

Kelly Schloss said...

I'm a mother of a 6yr old under the spectrum.. he graduates kindergarten tomorrow morning.. over the past few days he has weighed more heavily than usual on my heart (more worrying and heartache for the future) and to top it off I had to wittness a young woman taking extreme advantage of an older man tonight (she later informed me he was autistic) I'm a beauty consultant and she had him spending gobs of money on luxury cosmetics just BC she smiled pretty and told him she would keep.him forever then when he'd walk away to pick her something out shed make jokes about him being slow and she would.never really have a relationship with him but he spent all his money on her and she would use him for now (with a very slurred speech due to too many prescription drugs it seemed) how I managed to maintain and keep my job is beyond me.. just to come home to Jennifer's story on the ID Channel. Funny how that works huh. It makes me physically ill to imagine that this happens Abd that my son (so previous and loving) could fall victim to it. It really does make you want to keep them in your pocket forever.. downside, you don't live forever. It is our job to give them every tool possible to help them better understand emotional cues and try to make the abstract more logical in hopes that when we are gone, this wont be a disability but more a quirk that makes then stand out not.BC they are seen as vulnerable or different but BC they are seen as the funny, intellectual and vibrant person that shines through every dull color! Wow I'm rambling.. thanks for sharing, I was trying to find what her mental state was, my heart hit my throat while watching the show and severe autism was the first thing that came to mind.

Melissa said...

Kelly - first, congratulations to your boy on his kindergarten graduation. That's a HUGE milestone! What you describe is heartbreaking and the fear of so many parents ... so many, many parents. It's so scary and so frightening. All we can do is, as you say, do the best we can.