DVH in MA: 4-year old child begs father not to murder his mother

  • “… He stood in the doorway with a loaded gun and talked about killing himself and/or children and myself. He was bringing up old verbal threats and I thought they were going to come true”

Amy Lake – July 2010

The words above were taken from a requested order of protection in the state of Maine in 2010.  The threats upon this victim and her family became a reality exactly one year to the day after this order was put in place in 2011. Amy

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Michael Sefton

Lake and her two children were murdered by her husband Steven Lake who killed himself as well. Immediately following the killings a Maine district attorney said “there was nothing we could have done to prevent these killings”. These were the words that triggered a team of professionals including myself to research the sequence of events that lead to this event.  A formal psychological autopsy was undertaken in 2011 following these murders and over 50 recommendations were generated (Allanach, et al 2011).

I am sick to my stomach as I write about another senseless killing of Wanda Rosa in Methuen, Massachusetts in late summer 2016.  The case resembles so many cases of domestic violence homicide – manipulation and control.  Ms. Rosa had a permanent order of protection but had recently modified the order to allow Emilio Delarosa to see the child they had in common. Why in the world would anyone allow Delarosa to see his son? He is no role model and the potential for terminal violence was readily apparent as depicted in the order of protection.  He expressed his intent to kill his girlfriend on more that one occasion.  Delarosa’s history of intimate partner violence had risen to the level of a permanent ban – signaling that the pattern of violence was undeniable and the red flag indicators for domestic violence homicide (DVH) were apparent in the eyes of the police and judiciary when the permanent order was granted.

Permanent orders of protection are rarely granted unless the pattern of violence was so prevalent and unremitting that the potential of harm or death to the victim and her family was unsurpassed as in this case.  It is known that Delarosa was manipulative and controlling of his girlfriend getting her to drop charges over and over and later alter the terms of the restraining order – ultimately resulting in her death.  Secondly, the person against whom the stay away  order is granted must have demonstrated a blatant indifference of the order of the court by having recklessly violated the order over and again. It should not have been altered.  In the past 18 months cases meeting these requirements (such as this one) have resulted in intimate partner violent deaths.  The Jarod Remy 2013 murder of Jennifer Martin is a despicable reminder of the need for change in cases of DV. Remy killed his girlfriend by stabbing her multiple times as the couple’s 4-year old child bear witness. In spite of laws designed to reduce the likelihood of DVH Rosa was not adequately protected.

Rosa’s boyfriend Emilio Delarosa is on the run as of September 20.  He is accused of murdering his former girlfriend after years of abuse, strangled her to death as their 4-year-old boy pleaded with him to spare her life, according to court records. “No Dad” the child was heard to say over and over. As in the Remy case, the 4-year old witnessed his father choking  Wanda Rosa until she was dead.

“I suspect there is a strong likelihood that he too will be among the deceased in the coming days as is the common eventuality among those who commit the unconscionable, violence that manifest in this terminal event” according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Westborough, MA.  When some men violate the permanent protection order it is the result of unbridled rage and defiance against a “system” they believe has failed or unfairly humiliated them said Sefton in a release. They are murderous and often turn their rage inward in an act of suicide. I would look for the triggers of what set Delarosa’s terminal rage into action.  It could be something as simple as being told he needed to have monitored visitation with is son or learning that the female was seeing another man – both conjectural on my part.  After the alleged killing Delarosa was heard to say “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over” when speaking to his sister.

“Domestic violence is not random and unpredictable. There are red flags that trigger an emotional undulation that bears energy like the movement of tectonic plates beneath the sea.” according to Sefton.  A psychological autopsy should be undertaken to effectively understand the homicide and in doing so contribute to the literature on domestic violence and DVH according to Michael Sefton who with colleagues published the Psychological Autopsy of a case from Dexter, Maine where a father murdered his child, estranged wife and ultimately himself (Allanach, et al, 2011).  In the days preceding the murder there are usually red flags or pre-incident indictors that people see that signal the intentions of the murderer.  These clues provide police and the judiciary with data to craft protection plans and are the commonalities found in cases of DVH across the state and across the world.  Some red flag behaviors signal the emergence of imminent terminal anger that can be seen in the social media accounts of intimate partners who go on to kill their spouses.  I am quite interested in the compelling reasons that Delarosa may have argued that resulted in the change in the permanent order of protection.  The outstanding Boston Globe article about the slaying is a sad reminder of the early warning signs of DVH.  All the red flags were present.  In a blog published in 2013 I list the tell tale warning signs of intimate partner homicide and the need for tougher bail conditions (Sefton, 2013).

The impact on the child will be lifelong. At age 4, children are developing their sense of gender identity in the setting of developmental growth, cognitive maturity, social functioning and continued individuation. Imagine the child who is reunited with his parent after a period of mandated protection due to DV.  He is now able to see his family and may be fraught with both excitation and fear.  It would be normal for the child to have fantasies of reunification of the family and perhaps self-blame for not having stopped the action of his father. Just like the daughter of Jennifer Martin and Jarod Remy this 4-year old boy will forever be reminded of the life he will not have.

Ronald Allanach et al., Psychological Autopsy of June 13, 2011, Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicides and Suicide: Final Report 39 (Nov. 28, 2011), http://pinetreewatchdog.org/files/2011/12/Dexter-DVH-Psychological-Autopsy-Final-Report-112811-111.pdf.

Sefton, M. The red flags of intimate partner violence. Blog post taken October 2, 2016.

Sefton, M. Prior history of crime not predictive of DVH. Blog Taken October 2, 2016. post: http://enddvh.blogspot.com/2013/07/prior-criminal-history-used-to.

Are childhood sports becoming venues for expression of unencumbered anger?

WESTBOROUGH, MA January 20, 2016  “Childhood sport represents an opportunity for children to learn the value of teamwork, sensible competition, winning, and loosing. Some important lessons in life emerge from the spirit of youth competition,” according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D., Director of Psychology at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Westborough.  “I have coached youth hockey up through high school-age boys and have found 99 percent of the families I worked with to be very reasonable and respectful,” remarked Sefton in preparation for the blog post.  Just as importantly the games must be fun or children will not want to play. In recent years there has been a growing notoriety of fan behavior while attending the sporting events of children.  It is almost a “mob mentality” as parents shout at referees over botched calls, yell at other players, and become obstreperous toward the opposing fans.  Sometimes this becomes violent as it did in Reading, MA in 2002 when two men squared off and fought over a youth ice hockey practice resulting in the death of one.  “The fight was less about hockey than about the loss of control and unencumbered anger” according to Sefton. For his part, Thomas Junta who outweighed the victim by over 100 pounds was sentenced to 8 years for manslaughter.  He was released from the state’s prison in Concord, MA in 2011.

Social scientists have been interested in mob behavior for years and when it comes down to what the underpinnings of fan behavior experts cite alcohol, adrenaline, and blind team loyalty as primary culprits. But as far as parent behavior at childhood sporting event goes some parents become delusional and behave out of some overdriven striving on behalf of their child. Some parents see scholarship money in a child as young as 5-years old when in actuality only 2 percent of athletes will ever receive scholarship funds for playing football for example, according 2008 NCAA published data – most receive only a partial scholarship package and not the coveted “full ride” – published in the NY Times.  As a parent I took my children to an NCAA ice hockey playoff event that was so much fun. The kids were given ice time to skate with coaches and players from the playoff teams.  During this time I attended a parent education seminar on scholarships and the lengths to which some parents will go to get their child athletes noticed.  How is it possible that an angry father might physically attack a volunteer referee over a missed call or become enraged at a youth coach over the amount of playing time a son or daughter receives?

According to Brooke De Lench, Mom’s Team executive director, parents lack the basic coping skills to respond to the ups and downs of their kid’s competition and are injured when their child does not succeed. De Lench seeks a shift from an adult-centered model to a child-centered philosophy as a way of eliminating unruly and sometimes outrageous fan behavior. When fans loose control the results can be deadly. “We lose ourselves when we watch our children play sports” said Sefton who regularly attends high school parents’ night in Massachusetts speaking on concussion.  But becoming lost as children play youth soccer or football must never include losing control as it sometimes does. Because for some parents, a child’s failure, or even the perception of failure may evoke strong emotions.

In 2002 during a youth hockey practice 2 children jostled and battled for the puck.  One parent, confronted the coach, whose son it was involved in the on ice scrap.  He objected to the rough play during the on ice scrimmage.  A shouting match ensued followed by the 270 pound Thomas Junta, 45, jumping the much smaller Michael Costin, 44, and punching him violently and killing him in front of his child and other players in the ice arena in Reading, MA.  Junta was charged and served 8-10 years in the state’s prison for manslaughter.  The lives of both families were destroyed by this event.  Both Junta’s and Costin’s boys have grown into troubled men and have themselves served time in prison.  This sensational story left quite an impression on me as an outrageous exemplar of state of the art parenting.

Most of us know there is much psychology in youth sports including developing core beliefs about winning and loosing, team cohesion, mastery of physical skills, and the growth of healthy competition. Balance is needed pushing children to become something for which they are may not be physically or emotionally equipped. Just as important parents must recognize their own feelings at their children’s games and accept that some things should not be worthy of the fight to end all fights.

Dr. Michael Sefton is a neuropsychologist and former police sergeant in Westborough, MA .  He along with 3 colleagues published a psychological autopsy on the Dexter, ME domestic violence homicide from 2011 and presented the research before the Domestic Violence Homicide Review Board at the state house in Augusta, Maine in November 2011.

via Are parents at kids’ sports games harmful? (Opinion) – CNN.com.

 

Maine man held without bail in case of DV

Judicial_Review_02WESTBOROUGH, MA March 30, 2014  The Portland Press Herald reported on the case of Jason Lawrence who is being held without bail for domestic violence.  He is a repeat offender whose violence against women can be traced back to 1997.  Is anyone surprised that the well-being of victims in this case were not considered by the judicial system who twice released Mr. Lawrence into the community. Finally, the perpetrator’s actions convinced someone he was the real deal and is being held without bail in Maine. At what point does the well-being of victims and potential victims rise above the abuser’s right to bail?  Some circumstances warrant the containment of those who exhibit abject cruelty over and over.  Many states including Massachusetts are beginning to realize how emotionally dehiscent an abuser can become.  The case in Maine is the first I have seen to hold a violent abuser without bail in that state.

Recently, the SJC in Massachusetts denied to remove a protective order that has been in  place over 10 years.  He claimed to have “moved on” and wanted to work with children and own firearms – arguably two rights surrendered when domestic violence allegations have been proven against you.  The SJC called the rights of abusers to have protective orders dropped years later – as the collateral consequence for the years of documented abuse (Sefton, 2014).

In the June 2011, Dexter, Maine homicide, one police officer was heard to say he had never before been so afraid for a victim of domestic violence and in spite of those fears and having access to firearms, Steven Lake was released from custody with little bail. The subsequent Psychological Autopsy conducted in 2011 by 4 current or former law enforcement officers identified red flags – just like those exhibited by Jason Lawrence – as being highly predictive of domestic violence homicide (Allanach et al., 2011). Mr. Lake killed his family and then himself in June 2011. People knew this was his ultimate intention and said nothing until the terminal rage he concocted resulted in the deaths of 3 innocent citizens from the state of Maine. Red flags were identified in the post hoc analysis of the case and were presented to the Domestic Violence Homicide Review Panel in November, 2011 in Augusta.

Does anyone doubt what Mr. Lawrence’s ultimate intention was in the 3 weeks between arrests? His anger and marginal behavior were escalating by the day. It did not matter to Lawrence that a protective order was in place.  A “no contact” order means nothing to a man who believes all control has been taken from him.  Arguably, when a district attorney identifies someone as “one of the worst domestic violence individuals ever” – as in this case, those words should be key is setting the parameters for bail. Greater discretion for bail is necessary in this case just as when a police officer believes a victim is not safe from her purported abuser. Ultimately, the premonition of the deputy sheriff in northern Maine came true on the morning of June 12, 2011.

Mr. Lawrence is not afraid of the police or being sent to jail because he has no limits on what he can do. He does as he pleases and containment is the only correct solution.  Red flags were apparent as far back as 1997.  The valid predictor of future violence is past violence. regrettably, the secrecy of victims and those who choose remain silent are the one’s who might stop domestic violence.  And as a society we must do something to bring a voice to these individuals because to do nothing is unthinkable.

Read more from the Bangor Daily News:

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/11/28/news/piscataquis/report-details-dexter-family-murder-suicide-calls-for-new-way-of-handling-of-domestic-violence-cases/

Citation:

Ronald Allanach et al., Psychological Autopsy of June 13, 2011, Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicides and Suicide: Final Report 39 (Nov. 28, 2011), http://pinetreewatchdog.org/files/2011/12/Dexter-DVH-Psychological-Autopsy-Final-Report-112811-111.pdf.

Sefton, M.S., Collateral Consequences, taken on 3-30-14,  https://msefton.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/collateral-consequences-stay-away-orders-that-are-forever/

The force of life and the fears that go along

Another look at the mind body dialogue.  The force of life lies within our body bringing forth our human energy.  Those energy traces forge the bonds that form meaningful relationships in time and space and sustain us. The force of life starts with a tiny heart’s beating and does not stop until life’s last day when the heart no longer makes its inimitable squeeze.

The meaning of what is human is derived from the social appetence inscribed into it by mentors and those who tend to its garden from early on.  Human growth stems from a carefImageully crafted blend of biological gifts and environmental design shaped over time. This may be lost without the core ingredients and nurturing bond that nourish it.  In their absence, the vessel becomes incapable of tolerating life’s abject aloneness and may become diseased.  The heart is a muscle that does not tire and yet it must be sustained or it quickly loses it lean and supple appearance slowly requiring more energy to power its life long lub-dub, lub-dub while still perfusing the body.  Arguably, the interaction between one’s heart and one’s head is undeniable.  What we do and how we think has much to do with the health of the body and ultimately, our life force.

Finding balance

It takes time to establish the human contacts needed to trust another person and put yourself in the hands of another with complete emotional certitude.  The fundamental appetence for living is shaped by the relationships made during life.  Those relationships that nurture and sustain may extend ones years of viability.  Those relationships that suppress the normal, effusive, life force are detrimental to health much like a toxin.

Juvenile Firesetting

Godzilla
Drawing produced by child being evaluated for firesetting

Fire sometimes symbolic of internal chaos

NEW BRAINTREE, MA  It was once believed that playing with fire was a normal, developmental curiosity and could be expected.  Fire is a tantalizing and visually captivating phenomena.  It was once espoused that firesetting was symprtomatic of psychopathology that included cruelty to animals and enuresis.  This triad of emotional indicators was thought to symbolize unmet needs and perhaps frustrated infantile drives states.  The current reality suggests that errant use of fire material represents one of the most lethal expressions of childhood emotional turmoil and unbridled conduct.  Depending upon the age of onset using fire as an expression of internalized conflict suggests a serious emotional disorder in need of expert assessment and treatment.  The drawings of some children reveal an chaotic emotional development that may be portrayed by the violence among characters as shown in the drawing here.  Each animal is drawn shooting fire or electric rays. The two main characters shown are Godzilla and Raptor who are engaged in a confrontation.  Each character brings his crew to help eliminate the opponent using fire and electricity.

Exposure to fire and role models

What happens when the child turns one? His parents plop down a birthday cake with a burning candle set alight.  While singing Happy Birthday the toddler sits transfixed as the waxy, flickering bulb melts before his eyes.  Some believe early exposure to fire coupled with significant role models who use and misuse fire material cast the first spark of interest in fire.  Curiosity in fire may be a normal childhood attraction.  But in most cases the normal enchantment with fire represents one of many normal wonders that parents may introduce to children as they grow and mature.  Meanwhile, just as one would not give a loaded firearm to a toddler, one cannot permit an unsupervised child to handle matches or lighters.  The interest in fire becomes a parents responsibility to nurture and polish with age.  This normal interest then foments in homes where the prevailing affective conditions permit – decreased emotional warmth, access to fire starting materials, an absent parent, and frequently domestic violence.  The inconsistent and unpredictable exposure to violence contributes to excessive and unpredictable behavior.

Psychologist are frequently asked to differentiate children who light fires because of normal curiosity versus those who light fire out of a more pathognomic underpinning.  I was once asked to evaluate a surviving 3-year old who lit a house fire killing his 4-year old cousin.  The tragedy of this case transcended 4 generations living in one household and rendered them emotionally overwrought. “Just as we will not put a loaded firearm into the hands of an untrained child, so too must we guard against the unskilled, misuse of fire”, according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

Juvenile arson is a serious crime and has life threatening consequences.  The cost to insurance companies is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars across the country.  The loss of life even more costly in terms of the human toll enacted upon families where children light fires.  The truth is that all “fire play” may be hazardous and life threatening when fire gets out of control so access to fire materials like lighters and matches should be carefully limited.  Just as parents kid proof their house when the baby is born so too should they make a house or apartment fire safe from the curiosity of a precocious child.

The most ominous case of juvenile fireplay occur in homes with one or both parents absent from regular, direct nurturing of the child. Why children choose fire play over other forms of acting out is not clear. There tends to be two peak ages where the incidence of fire play is peaked: 3-5 years and 12-15 years. It is far more common in boys than girls but girls tend to light fires that include personal belongings, Any use of combustibles or incendiary devices is highly significant and requires professional assistance. Programs such as that offered by YOU, Incorporated in Central Massachusetts have clinicians who understand the dynamics of fireplay and can help families deal with the risks. See the link below for a sensitive look at one particular story from the midwest.

http://www.traumaburn.org/prevention/seanstory/misuse/index.shtml

“Just as we will…

“Just as we will not put a loaded firearm into the hands of an untrained child, so too must we guard against the unskilled, misuse of fire.”

Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

Fire safety is the responsibility of all adults. Curiosity in fire may be normal but so are many things that children cannot be allowed to use.

“Falling in with the wrong crowd”

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Children need consistent, firm limits with allowance for individual choices that are unique to them, according to author Michael Sefton

In recent weeks there have been a host of noteworthy arrests of juveniles who committed crimes out of bordom including the beating of a 88 year old veteran who was murdered.  How can this happen?  In past generations, when teenage children were bored they play baseball, listened to music, or rode thier bikes.  Some believe adolescents are not equipped to deal with bordom and cannot tolerate having nothing to do.   Some say this is linked to a need for “instant gratification” and hunger for stimulation triggered by computer video games.  That is the subject of on-going debate.  People ask “where are the parents of these children?”

In Spokane, WA police have charged two 16-year old boys with first degree murder for the killing of Delbert Belton, a WW-II veteran.  People have said “there is nothing to do around here in the summer” according to an NBC News report.  The Spokane police chief has called for youth programs to help mentor adolescents and provide appropriate role models.  The uncle of Kenan Adams-Kinard, 16, believed his nephew had fallen in with the wrong crowd and now needed to be responsible for his actions.  Adams-Kenard is charged as an adult with murder.  In Fort Worth, TX, a 13-year old boy was arrested in June for murdering a 5-year old boy who was found bludgeoned to death.   And in Logan, Iowa, a 17 year old boy living in foster care is alleged to have murdered a 5-year old with whom he lived.  That child was found in a nearby ravine.  The motives in each of these cases are not readily apparent.

Michael Sefton, Ph.D., author of The Evil that Kid’s Do suggests that a greater partnership between parents and the community is needed to provide for the emotional needs of teens.  “Gangs and childhood violence result from a dearth of emotional resources and connection to others often compounded by exposure to domestic violence and child abuse” according to Sefton.  Families need greater support than ever but many are living in the fringes.  In The Evil that Kid’s Do, Dr. Sefton identified mentors, treatment for drug dependence, gang intervention, community religion, and keeping guns away from teenagers as possible action for keeping adolescents from becoming bored, angry, and marginalized.  It is true that children who are bored often become frustrated and look for things to do.  But healthy children fill in those blanks with prosocial activity – while angry, marginalized kid’s choose activity based upon underlying drives, tolerance and attachment.

As a police officer we are asked to come to juvenile court to present evidence and testimony in cases we bring forth.  Some are cases of intact families with good support and others may be single parent families and still others are foster families.  Would it surprise you if I said any of these family systems might have perfectly delightful children uninvolved in crime or delinquent behavior.  We see so many of these kinds of families.  In the same way, any of these family systems may produce a dangerous felon or drug dependent addict.  It takes more than an intact family to raise self-confident, curious children who attend school with an appetite for learning.  It takes a parental dyad that sets appropriate limits and model empathy, kindness, and social skills.  Children need to learn what is right and wrong and what behavior will be accepted as they develop.  All human beings make mistakes and should be taught how to succeed and shown forgiveness.