The recent murder of Jason (12) and Jennifer (7) Mulvaney by their father, James, sparks feelings of outrage and bewilderment because it is such an abhorrent act. Unfortunately the murder of children is seemingly a part of the human repetoire of behaviors. Infanticide was known in prehistoric times and continued through the Middle Ages to the present day. In ancient Egypt infanticide was so great a concern that it was forbidden. During the Greco-Roman period babies were rescued from manure heaps, a not uncommon method of infanticide by Greeks or Romans, and either adopted as foundlings or raised as slaves. Judaism explicitly prohibits infanticide in the Torah.(e.g., Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3 & 17:17, 30-31 & 21:6 & 23:4, 10; Jeremiah 7:31-32 & 19:5 & 32:35; Ezekiel 16: 20-21, 36; Judges 11:31) Christianity, too, was concerned with infanticide, and forbade it. (Teachings of the Apostles or Didache said “You shall not kill that which is born.”))In India, Hinduism condemns the act.
Throughout history human cultures have been troubled by the ritual killing of children. The practice appears to have been so wide spread that major religions and cultures adopted laws to forbid it.
The United States ranks eleventh in infanticide of infants under 1 year killed and fourth for those killed from 1 through 14 years. “In Southern California this month, six children have been stabbed by parents. Four have died.”
In Ventura County in 1995 Michael Sasse shot and killed two of his children, ages 3 and 4 before committing suicide. Cora Caro was convicted and sent to death row for shooting to death three of her four sons in 1999 as they slept in their beds, and prosecutors purported that she sought revenge against her husband because of their troubled marriage. Narind Virk was convicted in 2002 but found not guilty by reason of insanity of forcing her children into the cold waters of Channel Islands Harbor and then jumping in herself. All three survived.
How are we to understand these horrific acts and how can they be prevented. Many of these murders share common factors. Married adults are fighting and threatening each other. They challenge the rights of each other to remain parents and retain custody. There is impending or real financial hardship resulting in loss of income, employment and a marked decline in their standard of living. Parents are protective of their children and view their impending suffering of parental loss and lifestyle as so devastating as to become intolerable. To these circumstances you can sometimes add spousal mental and physical abuse, a family history of emotional illness, and a litigious conflict-promoting legal system. This can result in the psychological equivalent of the perfect storm in which the end of life is viewed as the only relief to unrelenting suffering.
As reported in the Ventura County Star, James Mulvaney’s wife had primary custody of the children despite his attending a “positive parenting” class.” On September 4 he lost his job as financial center manager for Citibank in Camarillo. He failed “to save the marriage, to improve and better the children’s education” according to court documents ,despite borrowing $200,000 with his ex-spouse to buy a house in which they lived for seven months.
Mulvaney wanted spousal support from his ex-wife because she made more money. Had someone understood the significance of these events; had someone recognized the destructive power of Mulvaney’s feelings, and had someone known doing something was better than doing nothing, this tragedy might have been prevented.
Marriages will continue to fail and parents will still insist on fighting each other for custody. We are in the midst of the worst economic downturn in our recent history and job loss is expected to exceed 10% of our work force. While this doesn’t explain the tragic deaths of the Mulvaneys, incidents like this seem more prevalent in difficult times, when extreme stress can unlock the inner psychological demons that must be present in someone who commits such an atrocity.