DENVER (AP) – Ultimately, experts say, the stunned citizens of the farm town on Colorado’s far eastern plains will be offered a probable explanation for the slayings of a churchgoing couple, allegedly by their 12-year-old son.
Resolution is another matter.
“People have a very difficult time understanding what happened,” said Paul Mones, a Portland, Ore., children’s rights attorney and author of the book, “`When a Child Kills.”
“`There’s a rhyme and reason in these cases,” Mones said. “It may not be a settling one or an acceptable one.”
He added, “The genesis typically is not what happened to the child that day or the day before.”
Charles Long, a snack delivery driver and elder at Burlington’s Evangelical Free Church, and his wife, Marilyn, director of the church’s children’s ministry, were found fatally shot inside their modest home near the Kansas state line on Tuesday. Their 12-year-old son — a volunteer greeter at the church — was in custody, facing possible first-degree murder and other charges.
Also wounded were the boy’s 5-year-old sister and a 9-year-old brother. Both are expected to recover.
Prosecutor Robert Watson has declined to say what actual charges may have been filed, citing a gag order in the case. Watson said he has filed paperwork with the court in Burlington, a town of 3,700 people along Interstate 70 about 140 miles east of Denver.
Watson had said he hadn’t decided whether to prosecute the boy as an adult. The difference could mean decades in prison without parole or treatment at a juvenile facility and release in a few years.
Tom Ward, the boy’s public defender, has declined to comment.
Experts who specialize in similar cases say there often is some type of abuse, anti-social behavior or mental health issue underlying those cases. But in Burlington, friends and family insist none of those factors played a part in the life of the Long family, which included seven children, four of them grown.
Kathleen Heide, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, has studied the phenomenon for decades. And by studying FBI crime data from 1976 to 2007, Heide estimates there were more than 1,900 cases nationwide of children 17 and under killing a parent.
What makes the Burlington case unusual is that it may have involved attacks on parents as well as younger siblings, said Heide, who wrote a 1994 book titled, “Why Kids Kill Parents.” She said motives generally differ between attacks on parents and attacks on siblings.
In cases of a child killing a parent, Heide said, perpetrators often are motivated by fear or terror, a protective instinct for another parent or a sibling, or a sense that a parent is getting in the way of inappropriate behavior. Other factors include mental health issues or adverse reactions to a drug, Heide said.
In attacks on siblings, motivations can include rivalry or jealousy and a desire to strike at a parent through the death of a child, Heide said. But she added that such attacks are rare because of the prevalence of strong bonds between siblings and, in the case of younger children, their vulnerability.
“It’s such an usual event and it’s such an extreme event,” Heide said of the initial allegations in the Burlington case.
Friends and family described the boy as a good kid, more outgoing than his peers, someone who would volunteer at Evangelical Free Church as a greeter, hand out church bulletins, help with audio and visual equipment and run PowerPoint presentations during services. He helped other children with their Bible verses.
Wally Long of Springfield, Mo., said he spoke with Charles, his brother, at least once a month and that there was no sign of trouble in the home, where Marilyn Long homeschooled the children.
“They loved their kids tremendously. It was their life. I mean, they have seven of them,” Long said in an interview with Denver’s KMGH-TV that was distributed to local media.
“Their life was wrapped around their kids.”
– By P. Solomon Banda, AP writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)