Thursday, January 13, 2011


She was my friend and still is though we now live in different states. She was first my dog groomer but our mutual love of animals guided us from business to friendship. She often spiffied up my rescues to make them more adoptable.

Sally as I will call her, was married with two children. Both of her children were adopted for she and her husband ( a quiet man but with a delightfully dry sense of humor) could not have children.

Their banker daughter was married and had given them a beloved grandson. Sally's life was pretty full and happy with her new grandson, booming business she conducted from her home and devoted husband. Her teenage son Doug, was a slightly different matter.

Doug had just squeaked out of high school and was working at a local dairy. He was not as bright as his sister and had struggled fiercely just to graduate. Sally said he was an average, sometimes “pain in the butt” teenager.

Not wanting to clean his room or take out the trash and living for any excuse to drive the car were daily occurrences. He was alternately accepting and hostile to parental authority but was an affectionate kid. Kind of an average 18 year old. I had met him and liked him a lot. He was a warm, friendly kid with twinkly eyes and a quick grin. No visible demons.

Sally wasn't too pleased that his best friend Lenny was 23 and apparently with no ambition except to have fun. However, Lenny was always very respectful to her and her husband and was full of “yes sirs and no ma’ams.” Lenny had a border line IQ and appeared mild mannered.

The summer after graduation, Sally said she lost a bit of contact with her boy as he was working at a local dairy in the daytime and traveling with Lenny in the evenings. She knew he needed to try his wings but was later to regret that loss of control. When are you supposed to loosen the reins and by how much?

One summer afternoon, the Sheriff appeared at her door to inform her that her son was being arrested and charged with a double murder. She said that nothing in life prepares you for those words. Nothing. You just stop breathing.

It appears her son had begun to experiment with drugs with his friend Lenny. She so regretted that she never saw the signs. That Saturday, quite high, they decided to rob Lenny's boss who was wealthy and influential. They were broke and wanted some money to buy more drugs.

Sally beat her self up wondering what she had ever done or not done that her son thought robbery was acceptable behavior. What lessons had she missed stressing repeatedly to her son?

The boss lived on a ranch in a lovely “Gone With the Wind” style home with tall columns and rocking chairs on the porch. I had been to their home on a high bill complaint (yes even the rich hate high electric bills) and I could easily imagine sipping a mint julep on that porch.

I had met the wife who could have been a Norman Rockwell model for the perfect grandmother. Grey hair, rosy cheeks and soft eyes. I remember her husband coming in, slipping his arm around her waist that day and asking, “Do you need me for this?” There was the comfort that years bring and a visibly warm affection between them. They were a very pleasant older couple.

Lenny and Doug approached their home that day, claiming a payroll problem and were invited in. His boss had many employees and did not recognize Lenny right away. Then Lenny pulled a gun and demanded money.

His boss calmly gave him all he had and then strangely asked Lenny if he could have just enough back to leave in the basket for church the next day. Lenny returned $5.00 to him and the boss thanked him. It was all incredibly civil for a robbery. Exactly what happened next is subject to different versions.

Lenny fearing he had been recognized, evidently shot the boss first but not fatally, then turned towards the wife. The wounded husband threw himself on his wife to protect her but Lenny put a bullet into her brain. He then did the same to the husband. It was a slaughter. This all occurred over 25 years ago so some of the details are sketchy.

How had such a simple robbery gone so tragic and blood thirsty? How could her son be involved? Where had she gone wrong as a mother? Could she have stopped this terrible tragedy? These are the questions that race through the mind of the mother of a murderer. No, her son had not pulled the trigger, but he was just as guilty by law.

Doug is now serving a life sentence without parole while Lennie, as far as I know, is still on death row after all these years exercising his appeals. Sally's family is forever fractured. Today she still feels the guilt for the tragic deaths of those two elderly people as well as the loss of her son who will grow old and die in prison.

She once told me that whenever she hears of such a tragedy, her immediate thoughts go to the parents of the shooter. She has been known to contact parents of young murders with condolences and sympathy, knowing she is probably the only one who will. Most just need to attach blame to someone.

I know today, that while she is as appalled as the rest of us at the senseless killings in Arizona, she is also thinking of that young man's parents in Tucson. Their family has also been destroyed. They too will wear the blame, maybe rightly, maybe not. Many lives were destroyed that day in Arizona. Many lives fractured.

Sometimes these killers come from dysfunctional families but sometimes that is not the case. Sometimes mental illness or perhaps an essential part is missing like with sociopaths is what makes them capable of horrific crimes. Hopefully some answers and solutions will come from this current tragedy. I know Sally is praying as hard as anyone for that very thing.


  1. Patti, what a sensitively written story and something we all need to be reminded of.

  2. Yes, thank-you for this story. I wish every one would read this caution about rushing to judgement.

  3. Oh, my heart goes out to your friend. So much pain, so much love, so much tragedy. Thank you for pointing out that the pain reaches in all directions.

  4. Very well done, Patti. I also think of the parents of killers and other criminals, and try to imagine myself in their position. It is unthinkable, unbearable and horrendous. I hope she will contact that killer's parents and offer some comfort.

  5. Patti, Compassion for every person involved is needed. Thank you for sharing this story.

  6. A powerful, heartbreaking and well-told story, Patti.

  7. What sadness can happen in a moment.

  8. Mental illness complicated and extremely difficult to deal with. It's easier for the country to deal with angry political rhetoric than mental illness. The subject of angry political rhetoric only requires shouting your personal opinion, nothing more. Dealing with mental illness requires much more, personal involvement, and the country doesn't seem to be able to handle that.

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  10. I don't know about whether or not your friend's son had 'mental' problems --but he did make many bad decisions. There had been MANY signs of trouble when checking the background of that young man in Arizona. People hesitate to get involved --especially since the ACLU in this country 'rules' when it comes to the RIGHTS of all people, even the crazy ones.

    BUT--be that as it may, something should have been done or could have been done for that young man years ago, which may have prevented that tragedy. ALL of us need to do a better job in this country of caring for the mentally ill, or those on the fringes of life.

    I heard on TV last night from Knoxville a sister locally who said that her brother was JUST like the young man from Arizona. She said that nobody would do anything here to help him either. He ended up in jail --just like your friend's son did, for something similar.

    It's all just so very very sad.

  11. Thank you for a truly thought provoking story. We in our society are always looking for the quick answer. THe easy rhetoric. You have made a wonderful point and I appreciate your perspective. The Olde Bagg, Linda

  12. These stories are so complex. If they were easily understood, we would have the answers that plague society. There is no easy understanding of what went wrong in your friend's son's life, just as there is no easy understanding of what went wrong in Arizona.

    Thank you for writing this account. It is thought provoking and timely.

  13. Wow, Patti, that is quite a sad story. I'm glad you wrote it all down. It's important to read in these times. Much too easy to decide just who the parents of a shooter might be, so this is a good reminder not to jump to conclusions. Sad story, very sad story.

  14. There's always two sides to every story, thanks for the reminder. Sorry about your friend, when family does wrong or treat their own family members wrong it is so often the hardest thing to handle throughout life no matter how much time passes by.

  15. After years and years of social psychology courses including one on mental health, I came to the conclusion that we do not have all the answers. One thing I know, people can be mentally ill and have nice parents. I currently have a friend going through some of Sally's travails, and know it is awful. My friend is the nicest person you could hope to meet. She did not cause her son's problems. Great points in this blog Patti.

  16. This is a very sad story. When I hear stories like this, I immediately put myself in the parents place and feel their pain. Drugs can turn the most outstanding child into doing evil deeds and there are some kids who are suffering from undetected deteriorating mental health. We've heard nothing about the AZ parents but they must be going through a lot of pain. There is constant media coverage and they can't avoid hearing it.
    Love and peace.

  17. "Grey's Anatomy" just had a similar story line...with a young doctor suddenly realizing the heartbreaking pain the 'shooter's mother was experiencing, as well as all the victims' parents.

  18. Great story. Sometimes, no matter how vigilant parents are, kids still are capable of terrible things. It's not always the parents' fault.

  19. This is a side of the story I think of almost daily. I represent kids in court who have gotten into trouble. Sometimes it is very painful to see the parents (and grandparents) of these kids. The jails and prisons are the new mental health treatment centers in this country. We seem to prefer to pay for this at the end, when there is a tragedy, rather than at the front end, in childhood or before things rise to a crisis level. Getting mental health treatment is very difficult, especially for those who are poor.
    I appreciate you bringing this side of a horrible story to the forefront.

  20. marciamayo,
    Thank you, I felt the need.

    Thank you for listening. It is so easy to rush, I used to.

    She feels a terrible burden and pain. No one is expempt.

    Me too Judy, especially since meeting her.

    The ripples of pain reach quite far.

    Pat Arkansas,
    Thank you Pat, I need to tell it.

    Amber Star,
    Yes, and there are no do overs.

    Oh how I wish the angry political rhetoric would just cease and thoughtful discussion take over.

    We still do not know how to treat the mentally ill. We either make care unaffordable or warehouse the sick.

    Linda in NM
    The quick answer is not working. Surely we can do better.

    Retired English Teacher,
    I wonder if not being easy means impossbible. I sure hope not.

    I used to be one of those quick to judgement. Not any more.

    Linda Starr,
    Time may ease the pain a bit but one never forgets. When she goes to visit her son, she remembers.

    You are so right. Too often we quickly blame the parents for the actions of the child.

    You know it is not just the parents. Every relative he has is suffering some guilt and definite shame right now.

    I record that show but am backed up. I will look for it. Thank you.

    It is so easy to fall into that easy place to attach blame. Not always so. Thanks.

  21. alwaysinthebackrow,
    You came in while I was back commenting. Thanks you for stopping by and you have nailed. Well said and sadly too true.

  22. You're correct, everyone in the family and extended family feels the shame and guilt. I just heard something interesting on TV. The girlfriend of the shooter is going to speak tomorrow on Shawn Hannity show. She said in a short clip that she didn't think he was mentally ill. Hummm, that might be interesting.
    Love and peace.

  23. Compassionate and powerful. So many things to consider when these tragedies occur; sometimes we look past many of those who suffer. Your post is insightful and compelling.

  24. Thank you Patti for a really great post. Big Hugs to you and your Mighty.

    Peter, Laura, Ginger and Nigella Stopit xx

  25. Your "other side of the story" is very apt. Until we walk in another's shoes, it seems best not to judge. What could have or couldn't have been done is moot - the tragedy has occurred and the aftermath is tragic for all involved - even the killer's family.

  26. I am still speechless about the entire event, both the miraculous survival of some and the senseless death of others, and the unknowns about the perpetrator.

    The little nine year old girl had many of the same ambitions I had. It is a difficult bill to swallow. And to think her brother, invited, decided not to go. It might have been doubly tragic. Or so that is the story I heard. As withthe media there are some variation on facts......

  27. you write so beautifully Patti
    from the heart

    I have seen photos of the wild eyed vacant stare of the man in tucson and I wondered what his story was

    there is always so much going on in people that we don't know or understand and that we can't control - even our own children

    I'm so sorry for the pain your friend goes through each day

  28. Patti, you are right: the parents of the killer are victims as well. Many of these murderers are schizofrenic and should have been on medication instead on drugs. But forced medical treatment does not occur here in the Netherlands, only when the patient is a danger to himself or to others. And then it is too late.

  29. I simply cannot imagine the horror and pain that must be going on in homes around the country who have experienced something similar to the Arizona shooting. I really appreciate the sensitive and heartfelt account you have put up here, Patti. I'm so sorry for your friend, and the parents of the latest shooter.

  30. Sad indeed. However, I choose not to blame it on the ACLU.

  31. Oddly I am like Sally. I wonder what horror has been inflicted on a family just by association. I even wonder why the law does not protect the innocent? I feel bad for everyone. The whole thing is such a mess.

  32. Manzanita,
    I heard that also by those who knew him just a few years ago.

    Thanks. The scope of the pain is far reaching.

    Thanks so much to my New Zealand buddies.

    I can only agree with you.

    You are right about the media stories. My goodness the contraditions from the first day reportings.

    Thank you so much. That picture could cause nightmares. Really frightening.

    Reader Wil,
    Both out countries need to work on how we treat our mentally ill. Like you say, too often it is just too late.

    Welcome and thanks for stopping by. Sally taught me to look past the obvious.

    Me neither.

    It truly is a mess with pain in all directions.

  33. This is a very sad and touching post Patti. My heart aches for your friend Sally and for all the other parents and grandparents who go through this torment. My brothers grandson was put in prison for life years ago in his late teens for murdering another boy over something very small. It has been difficult on their whole family.

  34. Dee,
    If there has ever been a forgotten group of people, it is the families of criminals. I know you, your brother and all your family as well as the victim's carry the pain of an instant of poor judgement.

  35. I always think and wonder what the poor parents of a person that commits a horrible crime are going through. Perhaps it's because of what my parents went through with my youngest brother. There were four of us, Myself being the oldest, then my sister (who has passed on from breast cancer) my older of the two brothers and then this youngest one. He started having problems when he was young, any excuse possible so he wouldn't have to go to school. Mom took him to the family doctor and he suggested a child psychologist. This brother is now 63, so that's been some time ago. Of course Dad said there's nothing wrong with him. So he's been into one thing after another all of his life. And it affects the whole family. But my question is, why out of the four of us did he turn out like he did? Would a child psychologist have helped him? Why hasn't he grown up and taken on some responsibility for himself yet? I would imagine being a parent to a child/person like that is a living hell everyday.

  36. I read your comment on Kenju's blog about toilet training a cat (this is totally off topic, but I couldn't find an email addy). Anyway, if there is splash back, you just layer TP on the water to "cushion" the BMs, so no splash up. I trained mine to use only the front (shallow) end of the toilet for all toilet needs. Email me at if you want more info. :-)

  37. I am sure this is another case of unless "you have to walk in my shoes" to understand. How is your friend doing now? I honestly don't think anyone has the answers.

    I have been feeling so sad for this poor Mother and Father is Tucson. I hurt for them. I have been a teenager, raised teenagers and know parents don't always know what to do.

    I heard that some people of reached out to offer assistance and to minister to them, one being one of the wounded victims.

  38. Patti,
    how compelling and my heart and prayers are with your friend. You know, when the Columbine incident occured, I saw many of my students in the gunmen...the constant bullying and being singled out; told you aren't fit for society and while I do NOT agree with what they did, I truly understand how one could be pushed to such an extent to do such a horrible crime.
    For your friend, yes, she will forever carry with her a sense of guilt, shame so I pray for self forgiveness as well.
    thank you for a glimpse of the other side...

  39. What a horrendously sad story...! I have bever known the parents of a murderer....I do know the parents of a young man who was murdered, though, and it is hard to imagine feeling sorry for the perpatrators parents---yet, I can understand when you know those people it has to be incredibly sad for them....
    The insanity in Tuscon is really horrific. So many lives shattered and 'fractured', to use your word. No one gets over any of it, ever.

  40. Patty,
    Sometimes I think there is just a part missing in some kids that they don't develope as their siblings. Sorry he is a thorn in your side.

    Thank you so much for stopping by with that great tip. If I decide to try again, I will do that.

    Miss Daisy,
    Every time she visits him in prison, it all comes home. It never leaves. I think it is awesome that one of the wounded victims could be so caring.

    You hit it, self forgiviness is often the hardest to achieve. We often beat ourselves up with more vigor than anyone else does.

    I too may have felt that way had I not seen it first hand and seen how much a parent of a murderer can suffer through no real fault of their own.

  41. My heart goes out to the shooters family as it does to all the victims and their families, I am 62 and have never seen such an atmosphere of hate and divide in this country even during the Vietnam years and that was over a real issue, now it just seems that some folks want to view everyone that does not think exactly as they do as the enemy.

  42. 1) I have been looking for the black (forbidden) rice as I also saw that Dr Oz recommended it and am glad to know it is good -- I love rice.
    2) I don't watch Gray's Anatomy but find it interesting that one of the characters 'has' VHL. I wonder how they will approach it - it can be sensationalized.
    3) Wow what a story...I am so sorry and yes I also think of the parents and relatives affected by a senseless tragedy such as this. Thanks for sharing!

  43. Honey boy does this post bring back a lot to me. I can not tell you how many parents of boys like your friends I have had to deal with in the last 20 years. Most of them for this type of crime. A couple were even serial killers. Their families suffer a tremendous loss added with such guilt.
    It is just horribly sad both sides of the story.
    This was a great story you wrote.
    I am so sorry for your friend. So sad

  44. Iowa Gardening Woman
    I know, hate and just general lack of tolerance for anyone who doesn't think the way we do is frightening. Wonder if we will ever learn to get along.

    I Wonder Wye,
    VHL is totally new to me so I didn't really understand what they were saying. The new character was being denied treatment for his insurance had run out. One of the main characters offered to marry him so he could continue treatment.
    It appears he will now be a regular character.

    I'll bet you really did get to see this side of a tragedy up close in your work. They are kind of the forgotten victims.

  45. What a wonderful blog today. Ironically, I said to my husband this weekend, "I feel so sorry for that kid's parents" Their lives have been ruined too. Thank you for your inciteful writing on this sad subject.

  46. I truly loved your story. I have a friend who is dealing with the same thing..her son killed a woman, and apparently intended to kill two other women but they weren't home.
    She has looked back over and over while wondering how it got to this point.
    My heart and prayers goes out to your friend.

  47. Mitzi,
    Thank you so much for stopping by. You are right, the parents are the forgotten victims.

    Bad children happen to good parents just like bad things happen to good people. As one friend said, raising children is a crap shoot. Some do nothing right and still have great kids while others do everything right and their children break laws. I have no answers. Your friend has my sympathies.