A rare opportunity
Yesterday I made a post about the teenagers that murdered the homeless guy and then blamed it on violent games. These kids have given the media their angle and just like all the other cases where games are mentioned no one will ever look any further. No one will ask what their family life was like, what their parents were like, what the kid was like before all this happened. Games did it and that’s the end of the story.
In my post I took the absolute extreme opposite approach. I laid blame completely on the parents and that was intentional. Penny Arcade is a satire site and people come here to laugh or get angry and that’s what we try to provide. I will admit that deep down as the father of a two year old I also want to believe that I as a parent can shape my kid into a decent human being. If I don’t believe that then…well I just have to believe that right now.
With that said I’m perfectly aware that the reality of the situation was somewhere between the two extremes. I know full well that violent games did not create this killer and I also know that his parents did not make him a murderer. Nothing outside of a comic strip and a goofy blog is ever that simple.
The sad truth is that the reality we’re talking about here would probably never actually see the light of day. The media will tell the story they want to tell regardless and that story will be about violent games. The parents of these kids will be lucky to get two lines in an article about the crime. If they tell a reporter that their son hardly played games or that he was fucked up long before they bought a Playstation do you really think that will make it into the final article? You’d never see that side of the story, not in a million years.
But you’re about to.
I am about to share with you an email I received from a Penny Arcade reader. She also happens to be involved in this case but obviously she’d like to remain anonymous. She has agreed to let me share her email with all of you and I can’t thank her enough for that. Like I said before, I know why most people come to Penny Arcade. You come every other day looking for a joke and a laugh. What you’re about to read isn’t a joke. It’s an extremely personal email sent by a very brave woman and I’m honored to share it with you.
Your news post about the kids and the homeless man yesterday made me sick to my stomach, before I even read the CNN article. I knew what it was going to be about before even reading the article. It was not the article itself, or even your post that made me sick, it was the fact that I know this boy. Or, rather that I could be considered one of the “parents” of this boy.
The boy’s father and I have been together for almost seven years, and I had what I guess could be called a “stepmother” relationship with the kid. To say that living with this kid was hell would be a complete understatement.
I don’t think I have ever actively hated anyone in my entire life, but this kid just makes my blood boil.
As I write this, my teeth are clenched, my hands are shaking, and my whole body is seething with the hatred I feel for this kid and what he has done. Seeing the article brings back all the horrible memories from when he lived with us.
He was constantly in trouble in school, with the cops, with us, with his mother, and with anyone else who was an authority figure. Not a week went by that the school or the cops wouldn’t call us for something. His attitude was basically “fuck you, I don’t have to listen to you” said with a shrug.
We tried absolutely everything we could think of to get him to behave like a normal human being… we tried groundings, negative reinforcement / punishment, positive reinforcement, counseling, and anything and everything the counselors suggested. We tried to get him interested and involved in extracurricular activities, like hockey, drama, music, art, anything, but he got himself kicked out of every group he was in with his “make me” attitude. When we would ground him, we took away everything. No TV, no computer, no phone, no leaving the house, no snacks or junk food…. Everything. When he was grounded, he was only allowed to sit in his room and read or draw. He was actually a pretty good artist, and we tried to encourage him to spend his time working with his talent. He would just sit there and take it… the groundings had absolutely no affect on him at all. Most of the time, he didn’t even remember why he was being grounded. At the end of it, we would ask him if it was worth it to have everything taken away in exchange for what he did… he usually just shrugged. He could be grounded for weeks, or a month at a time, and then the very next day would do something to get back in trouble again. Most kids get grounded or punished a couple of times, and then they want to avoid having to go through it again… not this kid, nothing seemed to phase him.
And we’re not talking the usual teenager stuff, like coming home late, or refusing to do the dishes. We’re talking stealing cars, setting fires, drinking, getting picked up for drugs, beating up handicapped kids at school (yes, really) stealing things out of our house… all with this “I’ll do whatever the fuck I want” attitude.
We had absolutely no idea what else we could do. We already had him in counseling, and we did everything the counselors suggested. We tried rewarding his good behavior (what little there was) to try to get him to see that when he behaves like a normal human being, things are good and people enjoy being around him. Nothing phased him at all.
Then, things took an even worse turn when he decided that whenever he didn’t get his way, or we did something he didn’t like, he told his counselors and teachers that we were abusing him. (Never happened.) And for some inexplicable reason, everybody believed him. I understand that child abuse is a very serious situation, and that they have to take every possible case seriously, but this was clearly a case of him manipulating people to get what he wanted. We had people from the school, cops, and social services over at our house or calling us on a weekly basis stating some new abuse that he had made up. At 14, the boy was already 6’3” and over 200 pounds. Of course, there was never a mark on him, because no such abuse ever took place.
One particular night (cops involved, as always) he decided that he didn’t have to listen to anything we said, and that he wasn’t coming home. He went to live with his mother, where things got worse by the day. He stole everything out of her home and sold it. He invited gang-bangers and drug dealers to her home, and she feared for her safety constantly. She called the cops numerous times because she feared for her safety, but again, the boy said that she abused him, and the cops always took his side. (For reference, the mother is about 5’3” and barely clocks in at 115.) He planted a loaded gun in her room, called the cops and told them that it belonged to the mother’s boyfriend. The boyfriend actually ended up serving time because of this fucking bastard kid. She had two other young children in the house, and the gun and the abuse charges were an intentional plot to get the other two kids taken away from her. She tried restraining orders against the kid, but since he was a minor, they wouldn’t allow it. Every time he got picked up, she pleaded with the cops to take him to jail, maybe that would finally get though to him, but they just kept bringing him home to her. I don’t understand why everyone who was involved with this kid just blindly took this juvenile delinquent’s word over all else!
The night that he and his friends murdered that poor homeless man, the mother said that he was acting particularly cocky. Then he threatened to kill her. We had absolutely no idea of what he had done until they found the man’s body. He was immediately waived into adult court (at 15) and sentenced to 15 years. We were all absolutely sick with grief for this man.
We were also sick with guilt… “What could we have done differently?” was a constant question in all of our heads. After the kid was sentenced, all the cops, counselors, social workers, and people at the school that had been dealing with him contacted us and his mother and apologized for not taking us seriously. They are all trained to take all accusations of child abuse seriously, and as a part of that they blindly took the kid’s side for everything, and dismissed us as “the lying abusers”. Many of them told us that they wished they would have taken our pleas for help seriously. Everyone thought we were exaggerating about how fucked up this kid was.
I completely agree with your statement of “These kids were twelve kinds of nuts and that’s a fact.” But the reason I am writing this to you is that, after reading your news post yesterday, I felt that I needed to defend the boy’s parents. His mother and father and I did absolutely everything we could think of to try to keep this kid in line. Even the kinds of things that normal teenagers get in trouble for would have been a blessing compared to what we’ve been through with him.
What I gave you today is a very small sampling of the kinds of things we were dealing with every single fucking day with this kid. When people hear about what he’s done, I can always sense the “I’m sure there was something you could have done” comment coming up. What would you have done? How do you deal with a kid like this? Like I said, we did everything the counselors suggested, and nothing seemed to matter.
If you want to add another element to the “nature vs. nurture” idea, this boy has a brother. Both boys were raised in the same house, with the same values. The brother has developed into a kind, considerate, responsible, and independent young man. He is currently working his butt off right now to save up money to go to school for architecture. The only thing I regret is that we spent so much time and energy dealing with the bad kid that this boy missed out on having a normal family life with a normal sibling relationship.
I am sorry this got so long. I have been reading PA since the very beginning, and I feel that both of you are very much like me. I think we are the same age (29) and I have been a lifelong gamer like the two of you. I can’t stand hearing about the so-called correlation between games and real-life violence. Video games DID NOT make this kid who he was, and it’s unfortunate that the correlation is there.
The thing that really gets me with this whole thing is that the kid knows full well that by equating what he’s done to a video game, that he will generate controversy and media coverage. It makes me sick that the media is jumping all over this, because that is exactly the result that he wants.
The only good thing (if there is such a thing) that has come out of this whole ordeal is that the kid is behind bars. That is exactly where he needs to be.
Again, I’m sorry about the length of this. Thanks for allowing me to “tell my side” of the story.
So there you go. There’s the other side of the story. He’s decided to use videogames as a scapegoat because as crazy as he is, he’s not stupid. He knows exactly what he’s doing. The sad thing is that it will probably work.