We have a crisis, why is no one listening?Tina Swithin, One Mom’s Battle
Last night there was breaking news about three children and an adult being shot and killed in a church in Sacramento before the shooter killed himself. The little bit of info (& every headline) made it clear that these children were killed by their father.
Let me tell you: just by reading that headline, folks like me knew that this family had most certainly been through family court and that the mother had been fighting for protection and clearly – CLEARLY – had not been heard or protected.
The same way that thousands and thousands and thousands of us knew within mere minutes of watching the Gabby Petito videocam footage that she had been abused, even before we knew the details.
Because lots of things, even when horrific and hard to believe, work in patterns. Have tell-tale signs, if you know how the thing works. Are right there in front of us to be seen if we operate from facts instead of misconceptions.
We KNEW – last night and all the other nights we’ve read stories that follow predictable patterns – because these are PREDICTABLE PATTERNS.
The earliest news stories cited that the fourth person murdered was an unknown adult, then later reported that the children were killed while on a supervised visitation with their father and the fourth person murdered was the visit supervisor.
They were on a supervised visit.
The quote from the local sheriff was that ‘the shooter was estranged from the children’s mother, who had a restraining order against him’.
Estranged. Restraining order.
These two terms do not match. They do not belong in the same sentence about the same people.
Estranged means you’re not affectionate, you’re alienated, specifically in the case of spouses it means that you don’t live together anymore.
A restraining order means there was enough documentable behaviors – a preponderance of evidence, actually – that a reasonable person would fear for their life and safety.
They didn’t just live apart.
She spent time and money to ask a court to make sure he stayed a certain distance from her.
To forbid him from having a gun.
To protect her and her children.
A court granted the restraining order.
It would have sufficed to say that the mother had a restraining order against the father.
That literally makes me shakemydamnhead and also want to cry.
What we don’t always say, people like me, is that these kinds of passive, sugar-coating statements also make our fists ball up and our muscles go rigid. That reading another story about this kind of indescribable tragedy makes our pulses rev up and our cheeks go hot.
We don’t just feel sadness. Or fear. We also feel a rage that we’ve come to learn to live with even though we would love to hand it over and give it up.
Here’s what the little bit of information that was released the first night tells us:
This mother had been to court. Most likely many times. Most likely for many years.
This mother was afraid. For herself. And for her children.
This mother had gone through the appropriate channels to try to protect her children.
That little bit of info tells us that the court had seen enough evidence to only allow visits with dad if supervised.
(Believe me – believe all of us scared, protective parents – when I/we say that this is NOT EASY to convince a court to do – so there was a lot of proof that being alone with dad was not considered safe for the kids.)
Here’s what else we know from what little detail was given in the first night’s reports:
IT WASN’T ENOUGH.
This father succeeded in hurting this mother in the worst way he could. And then he killed himself to not face the consequences or the damage to his false image as a loving, caring dad.
This happens way too often.
This was preventable.
When I read the news, my body became a swirl of kinetic energy – red hot anger mixing with knee-buckling sadness mixing with the bubbling up of my worst nightmare – the one that I’ve buried deep in my marrow in order to live a good life and not be always terrified – that I’ve buried in order to live with this crippling fear and to make sure my daughter doesn’t absorb it.
I want to grab this mother and hold her like a baby and squeeze tight and tell her that I wish I could bring her babies back, could rewind time, could hold them all in my lap (I want my lap to be as big as a house in order to hold them all and keep them safe) and make this not the story that is the story of all of their lives and I simultaneously want to take up weapons and go smash some courthouses. I want to have a movie-worthy scene of dismantling these buildings that force kids to have contact with people that the court itself has deemed dangerous and volatile.
I want sledgehammers and pickaxes and a troop of similarly armed parents to walk with me up to the very places that have failed so many of us. That continue to fail so many.
I want to ruin the building that sent those kids into that church with that dad.
I want to step on its rubble and smell that dusty odor of old grout crushed and floating up up up as we all stand still and take a breath and feel the fatigue of tired muscles that have done something hard and good.
I tossed and turned all night. I watched a movie and then a few episodes of tv in the wee hours of the morning when I just couldn’t find sleep, as all of these emotions swirled together in my body, as I didn’t want the silence of my own thoughts.
I drifted off sometime after 3:00am and when I woke up, my first thought was that I wanted to take all the people that knew this family (with all the people that know me and my little family) and sit them down right in front of me and ask them all:
How many of you dismissed her concerns as bitterness or revenge or her hanging on to the past and not just moving on?
How many of you still don’t get it?
How many of you still won’t help us?
The people like me who read this – who heard this story and will have a sadness and fear in their bones without even needing more details because the details we have are enough to know – the people like me will understand these mixed emotions without needing to be convinced of why.
The fear. The sadness. But also the rage. The glowing-hot-iron-rage of the courts not listening to ALL of us for so long and now these three children join the over 800 killed like this just since tracking began by the Center for Judicial Excellence.
This mother will join a very specific sorority that all parents like me fear joining. A fear that some of us feel on a daily basis. That makes us shake in our very core but also enrages us and threatens to hijack our lives.
I want to say to those parents: I see you and I am you and I wish we could stop this because if we have help, we can stop this horror show from playing out over and over and over. I want to say to them: how do we get the help we need?
I know we have to ask. But we’ve been asking. For so long.
I really want to talk to those of you who didn’t suddenly understand what happened with just the details released last night. Who didn’t see a whole movie play in your mind from just those few paragraphs strung together.
Those who really want to dismiss this as an isolated incident. (Because who wants to see that this happens all the time and to all kinds of children?)
Who want to say wow that man was crazy. Who want to blame guns or divorce or stress.
THIS WAS PREVENTABLE.
We understand why you don’t want to see this crisis.
We wish we had the luxury of unlearning it.
If you know the signs, then you know the signs. If we, as a culture, know the signs then kids don’t get forced to be close to people who abuse them.
It’s easy to see, most of the time, when you know what to look for in ‘custody battles’.
If you say that you don’t want more kids to die such preventable deaths – and you mean it – we have the info for you to help us stop this.
If you say that children deserve to be safe and that their safety and wellness trumps any parent’s right to contact, then kids stay safe and courts don’t rule from the any dad or mom is better than no dad or mom no matter what position.
Forcing contact based on some arbitrary belief or guideline puts kids in harm’s way day in and day out.
There are studies now. That prove what parents like me have been saying since before I even had a child. Since before even I was a child.
There are amazing organizations teaching us the truth. The signs. The ways to see the abuse, the danger.
How to tell the milk from the cream.
How to help these kids.
So many folks now who are educating us all, if we choose to learn.
Refusing to learn is failing these kids and the results are fatal.
Every court professional who didn’t make it impossible for that dad to kill those children and their supervisor failed.
Every family member who didn’t believe this mama failed.
Every person who refuses to see this pattern played out over and over and over has failed these children and the hundreds of others now dead, let alone the thousands and thousands who have to go week in and week out with someone they fear (as their protective parent stays busy the entire time their children are gone in order to keep from buckling under the fear that their child won’t ever come home again).
Every person who thinks this fear that some of us have about losing our children is overblown failed these kids and is still failing all the children still in danger.
I’m sure friends and family of this now childless Sacramento mama dismissed her concerns.
Every reporter who calls this a custody battle or a contentious divorce or estrangement – FAIL.
Our governor who called this ‘another senseless act of gun violence in America’ – FAIL.
Every court official who didn’t do enough because they are both to blame – FAIL.
Here is something that is true – truer than true:
These cases can almost always be deciphered by looking at the details and knowing what to look for – the behaviors show up in patterns. Recognizable patterns.
When car crashes result in head injuries, we don’t just shrug our shoulders and blame the fragility of skulls or the way a neck will sway. We legislate seatbelts. We add airbags. We create safety requirements. We adjust speed limits. We make kids sit in the back. We look at the data and look at ways to prevent damage and then act. We set different metrics and different rules for children. We work to ensure their safety.
Stop looking away.
Look hard and sharp at what’s right there in front of us.
Heartbroken people don’t kill their children. Abusers do.
Save the children still locked into this abusive system.
When your friends ask for help, believe them.
When legislation is up for approval that centers children in custody issues – vote for it, email your reps, ask your friends to support it.
When legislation is up for approval that mandates 50/50 custody, vote against it. No judge should be handcuffed to sending kids to abuse regardless of DNA or legal rights to children.
When public officials fail children the way these children were failed, hold them accountable.
Support organizations that fight to reform the system. Groups who educate judges on trauma and abuse. (I have some embedded in this post as well as listed below)
This is not just a sick, abusive dad who did an unspeakable thing.
This is a family court system that doesn’t protect kids even when a parent jumps up and down and waves her arms and pleads for help.
This is not a news story to read and feel bad for a minute and move on from. This is a mother’s wail and a plea for help.
This is another tragedy from a system we allow to keep churning out tragedies.
Preventable. So tragically preventable.
Our kids need you to notice. And to care.
And to help us change it.
Links within post:
Custody Peace (FB page)
California Protective Parents Association
National Family Law Center (FB page)
One Mom’s Battle
Family Court Awareness Month
National Safe Parents Coalition (FB page)
Kyra Franchetti Foundation
Santa Clara Study Into High Conflict Personalities