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The Cross River Horror

A man kills his family and then himself. Where does this sudden outburst come from? Maybe something in the assailant’s past provides a clue.

Every now and then we hear on the news that a man killed his family and then himself. Acquaintances are interviewed and they may mention little things, but always say that they are astonished, that it could not have been predicted. I wonder, at those times, what I would say if I were in that position.

Today I am in that position. A man battered his wife to death, then shot his children, and finally himself. His parents and my parents were good friends. The troubled assailant had three older brothers, 8 and 11 years his senior. Thus, in many ways, he was an only child. While I was in high school, I used to babysit him. After leaving for college, I didn’t see him again for a long time. I moved to Israel before he finished high school and met him only several years ago, at my mother’s funeral. I would never have recognized him if he hadn’t introduced himself.

When he was a little boy he suffered a burst appendix and complications from peritonitis. This was a near death episode. While he got his health back, he remained very small, as if the serious disease affected his pituitary gland. Leaving him when he was 11, I remember a very small cheerful boy.

I never heard glowing reports on his three elder brothers. They were ordinary people who didn’t make the news. Their younger brother became a successful lawyer and had a position in the Clinton administration. Towards the end of the Democratic administration he married and moved to Westchester County. A few years ago he helped us with a legal problem after our father died.

Suddenly, he is a murderer and a suicide. His children are dead; nothing is left. There is no one to receive my condolences. In the week when Israel is rejoicing the release of Gilad Shalit, and now Khaddafi’s end, I am mourning wasted lives, taken by someone for whom I was once responsible.

I got the news from my sister, over the phone. I chose not to run to the Internet to read the gory details. It was a time of meditation.

When I write a story, factual or fictional, I use what I know. What I knew here was that he was living at home while going through a difficult divorce. I also knew that he had undergone a near death experience and was very small as a child. Were these the seeds of the present unfortunate episode? Did he feel that his life was a gift that he could give back when he no longer wanted it? Did his wife’s remarks bring him back to a time when he really was a small person? Is this the way an affluent lawyer proves his self-worth?

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