Coppell Murder-Suicide: Watching the Tough-on-Crime Go Soft on One of Their Own
Tell you what. I will agree to leave the Coppell mayor murder-suicide story alone and stop stirring the pot just as soon as everybody else does. But today I have yet another pot-stirring by somebody else to deal with.
Mark Davis, the conservative talk-show guy who writes op-ed pieces for The Dallas Morning News -- usually tough as nails on law-breakers -- this morning offers yet another in a series of gooey elegies offered on the pages of our city's only daily newspaper for the kid-killer.
Of the woman who murdered her own 19-year-old daughter and then shot herself to death, Davis says this: "Jayne Peters was a remarkable woman, with a successful business career before she was elected mayor of one of North Texas' most desirable addresses. She naturally cultivated a long list of friends and family whose pain is equaled only by their despair over how she reached such a breaking point."
He goes on to explain why she killed her kid: "Peters' turmoils were the kind that we can all identify with -- her husband's death from cancer, financial hardship, fear of the loneliness she would face in the emptiest of nests."
First off, I don't remember seeing any reporting anywhere to show that the late mayor was a business success. She has been described as some kind of computer programmer. If she was such a success, one would assume she would have used that record of success to get a job instead of living off her church and stealing money from the suburb of which she was mayor. If she had so many friends, why didn't she talk to any of them about the fact that she was economically and spiritually busted?
But more to the point: People don't murder their kids because they're afraid of being empty nesters. That just isn't how the world works. Even if you layer this story with a thick sugar-icing of ersatz psychology, depression and peer pressure are not motives for killing your own kid.
Murder comes from meanness. It's the ultimate act of brutality -- stopping a life that is not your own. Why can't people like Davis concede that a person of their own class and ethnicity is capable of being a brutal monster?
Davis posits that Peters killed her own kid because she didn't want her daughter to go off to college and leave Peters all alone in the house. Just for grins, let me posit a different scenario. The mother, who has told the daughter she has been helicoptering all of her college apps for her, knows that no applications for admission have actually been made. There is no money for college. The kid ain't going.
But the mother has engaged in an elaborate deception -- renting a car and telling the daughter it's a high school graduation gift, telling her she has been admitted to UT -- because she loves her daughter and wants her to be happy. In other words, mom is nuts.
Mom is also deeply depressed. She is confused. She wants out but can't find an exit. She is plotting suicide. She has already borrowed the gun.
The girl has attempted to drive to Austin for college orientation on previous occasions, but Mom has always found ways to stall her. Now this is the last day for orientation. The girl willfully loads her stuff into the new car and prepares to drive to Austin.
Mom unloads the car and unloads the truth. No Austin. No UT. No car. No money. We're losing the house. I did it all for you, because I love you.
At this point the girl does not play the part as Mom had hopes she would. She is supposed to say, "Oh, Mom, I love you, too, and it's O.K., and we'll survive this together."
Wouldn't it be great of 19-year-olds really said stuff like that anywhere but in the movies? Back here on Planet Earth, the 19-year-old throws a holy house-shaking shit-fit. She calls her mother every name in the book and says she can never face her friends again and she wishes she were dead.
Wrong thing to say.
This is where the murder moment clicks in, in my imaginary scenario. A mother who was not a kid-killer would tell her daughter something typically stupid and parental like, "Oh, shut up."
But Murderer Mom doesn't think that way. She decides, "Oh, so you want to be dead too? Well, guess what, you ungrateful brat. I have the means of accommodating that wish."
So do I know this is what happened? Of course not. But I think my scenario is more probable and more reasonable than Mark Davis' scene, in which Mom says, "Oh, Honey, I'm going to miss you so much if you leave me, I think I'll just put your lights out instead."
Murder is an act of savagery. It's not morally appropriate to condone murder out of hand, before we even know what happened. I think we ought to hesitate long and hard before we make excuses for murderers. Frankly, the ease with which we condone killing in this country is part of the problem of killing. A big part.
Murderers deserve our detestation and opprobrium, just like absent fathers, drug dealers and pyramid-scheme scammers. Worse.
It's a funny thing about the middle-class law-and-order crowd: All that tough-on-crime stuff goes right out the window when they're the ones who get stopped for drunk driving, when it's their buddy who gets nabbed for non-payment, when it's somebody who looks like them who kills her own kid.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.