In My Own Write: Parents who kill their kids

Why do people need a license to have a dog, but not to have children? - Posted on an Internet forum

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October 1, 2013 21:48
Scene of stabbing attack by Sudanese migrant in south Tel Aviv

Police crime scene south Tel Aviv 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

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 drive by.

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.

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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, responsible parent.

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 the phone.

“I suppose you’ve heard the news,” she said.



“Yes,” I 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.

Yet how, 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.

PARENTS KILLING 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.

“She 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 mother.”

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 cooperative.

“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.

Some 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 may hold.

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.


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