I knew her. Karina Brill, the woman who killed her two sleeping children on the
morning of September 16, then turned the knife on herself. Recent immigrants
from Ukraine, the family of three lived in a building at the top of Rehov Ein
Gedi in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, just a short walk from our recently
vacated apartment and not very far from our new one. I shudder every time I
Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to say that I knew her. I spent a
few hours in her company when she brought the children to a yard sale a friend
and I were holding in my friend’s apartment prior to both of us moving house. I
had already heard about Karina from this friend, a person who opens her heart
and her home to anyone in need.
Typically, she had taken an active
interest in the 36-yearold recent divorcee, a classically trained flute player,
and described her to me.
But I was unprepared for the woman who walked in
the door on that Friday morning in early August carrying a bouquet of flowers
for my friend. Very tall and slender, with the natural grace and something of
the shyness of a gazelle, she reminded me of a younger and lovelier Meryl
Streep, with a warm and eager smile. But for the lack of artifice she could have
been a model.
She bought several of our items on sale – books for the
children, a set of porcelain dishes, a summer dress that had been my daughter’s
– then lingered on to buy still more things. Igor, seven, and Mira, five, rushed
around creating havoc; their mother kept tabs on them, addressing them earnestly
when they got too unruly. Her behavior gave every impression of a caring,
THEN, SEVERAL weeks later, came the frontpage
headline: “Single mother allegedly stabs her 2 young children to death.” I read
the report, which withheld all names, with a mounting sense of unease. The
location, ages of the children and other details seemed to fit. But surely it
couldn’t be that lovely, gentle-looking woman? Finally, my friend and I spoke on
“I suppose you’ve heard the news,” she said.
answered. Then, cautiously, “It isn’t anyone we know, is it?” “It is,” she
answered. It seemed incredible.
I asked my friend whether the mother had
survived the suicide attempt that followed the killing of the children. The
newspaper report hadn’t made it clear.
“Unfortunately she did,” my friend
replied quietly. That terse reply, so jarring from a person who avidly
celebrates life, brought home the enormity of the tragedy.
indeed, does a mother carry on living with the knowledge that she has murdered
her children? As of this writing, Karina Brill, upgraded from critical to stable
condition in a Jerusalem hospital, is scheduled to be formally charged with the
murders in court this week.
TWO DAYS after the Brill killings, a man
threw his two children off an 11-story building in Tel Aviv and jumped after
them. All died. And in early September, a man from Daburiya, near Nazareth, went
on a shooting rampage in the village, killing his former wife, two of his
daughters and another villager before committing suicide.
their children in an act called filicide seems shocking, contrary to every
natural human impulse, but it is apparently more common than we might want to
believe, according to a US expert on the phenomenon.
And not all parents
who do it are mentally unhinged.
“The general lay-public response is they
must be crazy, but that’s not always the case,” said Dr. Phillip Resnick. The
professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland spoke in
July 2012 after Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, was accused of slashing the throats of
his three young daughters in River Falls, Wisconsin.
Resnick said one out
of every 33 homicides in the US is the killing of a child under 18 by a parent,
or between 250 and 300 of the country’s killings each year. In a 2005 study, he
found filicide to be the third-leading cause of death of American children aged
five to 14.
Only some such parents are psychotic, Resnick said, meaning
they have no command of reality.
In a seminal study he conducted of
filicide, Resnick identified five different types of the crime: killing one’s
children as revenge against a spouse, which may have been what motivated the
recently divorced Schaffhausen; killing them “altruistically,” under the
delusion that the children would be better off dead; killing them because the
parents never wanted the baby in the first place; abusing the child to death;
and, finally, killing out of acute psychosis, in which the person has no
comprehensible motive, is delirious or believes that someone or something is
commanding the killing.
LATER I spoke to my friend about Karina Brill in
an attempt to gain some insight into what prompted her horrific act.
would call me and say she was having a very hard time,” my friend said. “I
encouraged her to come over and talk, and she must have visited our house five
or six times."
"We baked together for her son’s birthday in school, and she
was so careful to have all the right things."
“From our first meeting –
this was back in April – she told me she was worried about her son’s aggressive
tendencies and his not fitting into his new educational surroundings. She was
always concerned about him.”
Ironically, and so tragically, she told
police the reason she killed her children was because she was “not a good
According to a September 18 report in The Jerusalem Post,
another parent at an area summer camp noticed a suspicious bruise on Igor’s arm,
which led to welfare authorities meeting with his mother on August 24 and
assigning a Russian-speaking psychologist to counsel her. She was described as
“However,” the Post report went on, “a day before the
murders, welfare services received an anonymous call from someone close to the
woman, warning them about her fragile emotional state.”
“We know that
Karina was scheduled to meet with welfare workers later that fateful morning,”
my friend said; “she may have feared that her children would be taken away. The
future must have looked very black.”
ONE CAN only conjecture the extreme
emotion that drove a seemingly devoted mother to do the unthinkable. It seems to
be a fact that no one, official or acquaintance – with the possible exception of
the anonymous caller – had any notion such a thing could happen.
experts suggest that because mothers may view their children as mere extensions
of themselves, such homicides are in fact acts of suicide. My response is best
expressed by these words from a poem by Khalil Gibran: “Your children... come
through you, but not from you / And though they are with you, yet they belong
not to you...”
Our children are not our property; we don’t own them, and
cannot dispose of them at will or whim. In the extreme case that people decide
to end their lives, their children have a right to their own future, whatever it
BRITISH MEDIA have lately been reporting the killing of
four-year-old Daniel Pelka, who was abused, poisoned and starved to death by his
mother and her boyfriend. He was so hungry that he scavenged from garbage bins
and even ate soil-covered beans that pupils were planting. He had bruises on his
face days before he died. Yet neither Coventry Children’s Services nor teachers
at his school thought anything was amiss.
The only thing we ordinary folk
anywhere can do in the knowledge that children may be at risk even in our own
neighborhoods is to internalize the knowledge that those capable of the ultimate
violence do not have to look like monsters. Armed with that awareness, we must
be vigilant and not hesitate to voice a suspicion that all is not as it should
be in a family or other group that includes youngsters.
We need to see
with “seven eyes,” as the Hebrew has it, and process what we see. An innocent
child’s life might be at stake.