Remember the post about the park ranger “snapping” and killing his wife and kids – Well, now the real truth comes out

In 2009, I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Washington Post – it had to do with a park ranger that “snapped” and killed his wife and two teenage stepchildren.

Park ranger ‘snapped’ before three slayings, court told

Here’s my letter to the editor: Words that matter, or not

In the April 3 Metro story “Park Ranger ‘Snapped’ Before Slayings of Family, Court Told,” about a man suspected of killing his wife and two stepchildren, the reporter took what I call the “Snap, Cackle, Pop” approach. In sum, the media report that the “nice guy” snaps because of his wife’s cackling or nagging, and so he pops her with a gun to put himself out of his misery.

This template for reporting on domestic violence must go.

Three to four women, and sometimes their children, die every day under circumstances related to domestic violence. Media accounts that excuse the behavior of the abuser or blame the victim for the crime are unacceptable. Often, there is a pattern of abuse, and it doesn’t involve the wife’s “nagging.” More often, the issues involve control or jealousy by the abuser.

Interviewing those close to the abuser will typically result in kind words because an abuser can provide a normal if not charming exterior. And, if the abuser commits suicide, rarely will you find a source willing to speak ill of the dead. Thus, we hear all these stories of “nice guys” who kill.

Most domestic homicides are not inexplicable. There is often a clear pattern that leads to murder.

The media owe it to the community to provide that information.

Well, two years later, we finally learn the truth (and of all sources it’s Fox News!!) :

Slain woman’s family breaks silence in Virginia triple murder

Ronquillo Dean also testified that his brother suffered from psychological issues and “he had, you know, some breakdowns” after becoming distraught when his first marriage ended and later learned Dean “didn’t go to work for a year.”

During this time, Dean was working as a ranger.

“They should have been concerned,” Clark said, referring to the Park Authority.

Clark says “Evidently it wasn’t a problem” for Dean to carry a gun “because he was never stopped.”

The family also deposed former Prince William County police officer and family acquaintance, Pete Paradis, who Dean requested come to the house the night of the murder. Paradis said Dean couldn’t get a job early on in his career with Prince William County police because of a “drug incident.”

During the questioning, the family’s attorney also produced a letter from Prince William County Schools to Dean, saying he had been “rejected” for a security job because of “an unsuccessful background investigation.”

Dean’s brother also said he was turned down by Fairfax County Police, but did not know the reason.

The ex-wife and the story that she told about his having violent dreams and wanting to hurt people and the fact that he could carry a gun and nobody cared? When you add all those things up and the loss of three wonderful people, it makes you angry,” Clark said getting emotional.

Dean told police he and his wife argued and he couldn’t take it, but Elizabeth Dean’s mother calls it all lies, that have tarnished her daughter’s short life.

“It was bad enough that he had killed them, but to make it appear as if he was forced to do it because he was angry?” she said.

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“Nice guy” kills stepdaughter

Usually, the story goes “nice guy” “snaps” and kills wife. Here’s one where the “nice guy” “snaps” and kills his 12-year-old stepdaughter. He gets the maximum time in prison: 24 years. Obviously, the judge didn’t see him as a “nice guy” but the Washington Post did:

Man gets 24-year term for strangling step daughter

Klein said Caceres had battled years of depression and frustration, caused by financial problems and stress as he tried to support his family in the United States and send money to his five children in Honduras. On the day Marisol was killed, Klein said, Caceres snapped.

Is “snapped” recognized by psychiatrists? If not, readers should know why a person would kill a child that referred to him as Daddy. The judge must understand it, but clearly readers cannot determine the cause.

The story is full of positive attributes of the killer and rationalizations such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Why didn’t this man seek help if he was so ill?  

 

No snap

In Woman Gets Eight Years for Fatal Shooting of Husband (Apr 18), where is the “snap”? As you can see from the first paragraph, it clearly seems that this woman “snapped”  – just like all the “nice guys” do when they kill their wives.

A Fairfax County woman who fatally shot her husband after spray-painting an angry diatribe about him on their driveway was sentenced yesterday to eight years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.

No, I’m not advocating reporters use the term “snap” or that we put it in the DSM as a mental condition leading to domestic homicide, but, come on, why do “nice guys” “snap” and women appear mentally deranged?

The guys (probably Men’s Rights Activists – MRAs) on the comment board are up in arms about the short sentence for this woman and believe it’s due to her gender. True, it does seem short, but they must not have read, “Pr. William Slaying Results in Six-Year Term,” where a man got 6 years for fataling beating another man.

Snap, Cackle, Pop!

Snap goes the violent man,

Cackling or naggin was the “cause” of the violence,

Pop goes the gun!

Here is an example of a cookie-cutter approach to reporting that is used for domestic violence. The media reports that a “nice guy” (as reported by his friends, family and neighbors) “snaps” and shoots his wife/ex-wife/girlfriend/children. The cause? Why, her behavior, of course.

Read the article by The Washington Post, “Park Ranger ‘Snapped’ Before Slayings of Family, Court Told” (April 3) here.

Read my Letter to the Editor, published April 11, 2009, here.

 Snap

You’ll notice many of these articles on domestic violence refer to the abuser/killer as a nice guy. One reason is that they often interview friends and family of his. Many batterers do provide a likeable, even charming, exterior to their colleagues and neighbors. Another reason is, if he committed murder-suicide, many people don’t like to speak ill of the dead. But, this kind of reporting often fails to paint an accurate picture of the individuals’ behavior in the house, where they may have acted completely different from the way they acted out in the community. Reporters should dig a little deeper to find out if there was a pattern of abuse in the couple’s marriage or live-in situation. Murder, as much as they’d like us to believe, is not something that occurs out of the blue. While researchers find no previous use of violence in some femicides (like the Stacy Peterson case), sometimes it just takes some investigation to uncover it  – and it’s up to the media to take this step.   

Cackle

The story mentions that the wife “nagged” for two years. Well, how did the husband act? Was he controlling or jealous, which is the case in many domestic violence accounts? Why is her negative behavior listed but not his negative behavior?

A recent New York Times article did the same thing. It said more about the wife “complaining” and being “uncooperative” than it did about her husband (a judge) that hit her. Why are negative or harsh terms used for the victim but not the perpetrator? Can you imagine a reporter writing about an unknown perpetrator on the street attacking an elderly man and then referring to the elderly man as grumpy or mean? Wouldn’t it sound as if he deserved to be attacked by that stranger? Why, that perp did society a favor by choosing him as a victim! Really!

The New York Times article also included the lawyer’s comments, “It’s a personal and private matter and it was appropriately dismissed and sealed. ” Ouch! Domestic violence advocates have been trying for decades to educate us that this is a societal problem rather than a “private matter.” Justice does not stop at your door mat. You are not free to use illegal drugs or run a brothel from your home – nor can you assault someone in there and get away with it.

Pop!

Hmmm, why did the guy have a gun? Did he have a prior history of domestic violence? Was there a restraining order? Was there a history of mental illness (diagnosed or not), anger management problems, issues in his other relationships (past or present)? All too other, batterers have access to guns. Police officers in my town – some who will be called upon in domestic violence cases – have their own charges of DV and yet they still have their jobs and their guns.

 As a lesson from this article, we should demand:

1) to know the real cause of domestic violence (hint: it’s not the other person’s behavior)

2) to understand that domestic violence doesn’t often come out of the blue (“snapping” is not a cause of DV either)

3) to see the victim treated with respect and dignity

4) to hear from domestic violence experts

5) to learn where to go for help