Whose ultimate responsibility is it when a child commits murder? Is it solely their own? The parents’? The teachers’? The community?
My brother, a minor, was charged with first degree murder. And these are only some of the questions that keep me awake at night.
Prior to this charge, I would look into his broken, tortured eyes and remember his younger self. Images of his sweet, happy face would haunt my mind. I could see him, aged somewhere between 5 and 8, gleefully trying his hardest to break dance in the middle of the living room. I remember the poems he wrote, beautiful. The songs he would write. The laughter. His smile. His face so innocent. So earnest. I, a child myself, was his primary caregiver until about 8. Life was difficult, but he hadn’t been completely broken yet.
Fast forward to his early teen years and the difference in his countenance was extreme. He’d continued to go through years of abuse and neglect even after I’d left. Our father was physically, verbally, and psychologically abusive to us all. Our mother was seemingly indifferent and asleep. It took me a couple of excruciating years to get my younger siblings removed from that place, placing them in my mother’s care. Then, in a devastating blow, my mother gave up on him and told him to go back and live with our father because she didn’t care anymore.
My brother lived with our father from then on, knowing that neither of his parents wanted him around. He felt so alone. His older brothers went off and developed drug addictions and criminal records and struggled with mental illness. As for me, his older sister, I struggled to cope with years of trauma and withdrew from everyone, in a sense, abandoning him as well.
At school, he was constantly in trouble or suspended or expelled. Teachers hated him. He lived to be accepted by his peers, a “rough” crowd. The more trouble he got in, the cooler he seemed to be with this crowd. He saw their acceptance as his only opportunity for a sense of belonging. Teachers and counselors should see these behaviors as cries for help. Yet, no one bothered. He failed classes. He got into drugs. He became addicted. He began stealing things for cash because his parents didn’t provide for him and the cash also helped his addiction.
There was a period of time where there were a slew of suicide attempts. Still, he received no help from anyone. More and more unimaginable trauma continued to stack up.
I begged our parents to get out of their own asses and do something. For the love of God. I researched programs. I called child protective services. I pleaded with them without success. I pleaded with my brother. He would just look at me with those sad, broken eyes. He would say something like “Why even try? What’s the point? I’m just worthless. And I don’t give a shit.” He’d say this with tears in his eyes, red-faced, but with a small, fake (defeated) smile.
So I don’t know if he committed the crime or not. I have no idea. There is no conviction at this time. I find myself going round-and-round in my mind trying to make sense of it all. The sweet, tender-hearted boy I know would not be capable. But he wasn’t that boy anymore. He was broken. Drug addicted. Beat down. Out of his mind and hopeless. Lost.
I know that none of that is an acceptable reason to take someone else’s life. And I am so completely horrified that this person is gone. That this family has suffered such a terrible loss. And that my brother could have had something to do with it. I am simply in such shock that I cannot even process the implications of this.
I’m just wondering aloud about the responsibility. This child, my brother, was raised under such horrendous circumstances. For the most part, without love and without guidance. Only beaten and broken, physically and psychologically. Is the blame solely his? What about the father who beat him? What about the mother who neglected his needs? What about the teacher that felt he wasn’t worth teaching? The brothers that left him in the dust and set terrible examples? The community that saw signs of abuse but didn’t report it? What about me? I knew he was on a destructive path, but I didn’t do everything in my power to intervene. Are we all responsible?