Saturday, 28 June 2014

The inner monster

It's fascinating (and shocking) when the parents of someone who's gone on a killing spree or some sort of horrific rampage say they had no idea their child was capable of such a thing, that he or she had always seemed like a decent, civilised person who would never hurt anyone.

This is what Peter Rodger says about his son Elliot, who killed six people in California and then killed himself. He says that his son's actions have haunted him day and night, that he never saw it coming and that he always thought his son couldn't harm a flea.

Every morning he wakes up to the fact that his son was a mass murderer and that on the inside he was very different from how he seemed on the outside. Clearly he's having a very hard time trying to come to terms with it.

How can someone not even have the smallest suspicion that their child has disturbing anti-social tendencies that need to be urgently addressed? How can their child hide these tendencies so successfully, so cunningly, that nobody suspects a thing? It's extraordinary.

On the one hand parents say they know their children so well they can be pretty certain of their thoughts or feelings on just about anything, and there are few surprises. They say they would notice straightaway if something worrying was going on.

On the other hand parents complain that once their children become teenagers they're more secretive, keep a lot of things to themselves and are often totally unfathomable. They develop a hidden, private identity their parents have little knowledge of.

I have no personal experience to offer as I don't have children. All I can say is that it must be unimaginably painful to know your child has done something so heinous and caused so much suffering and heartbreak to so many other people. And if they're also dead, you can't even ask them to explain. It's just a bottomless mystery you will never ever solve. A mystery that will probably haunt you till the day you die, and even make you question your decision to have a child. Peter Rodger's life will never be the same again.

Pic: Peter Rodger and Richard Martinez, father of victim Christopher Martinez


  1. It is often the quiet ones. My kid is quiet, but he can't kill a bug. I don't worry.

  2. Susie: Indeed, it's often the quiet ones. You can never be sure what's lurking under the innocuous facade. Hang on, I'm pretty quiet myself....

  3. My Elly is 'noisy'. I could always read her like a book, even when she was away from home.

    During her first six months at Uni in Scotland, I took a sudden urge to phone her. She was staying in modern Halls of residence, she answered the phone on the landing and I knew by her voice, that something was up.

    She had found one of the students from her landing in a bathroom with slit wrists. She took the girl to hospital, where the wounds were dressed, a Psychiatric appointment was made for three weeks down the line and a script for pills was handed to Elly and the girl was let go into her care!!!!

    It turned out the warden was off for the weekend, as was the Chaplin. I blew my top and told to go as far as the Vice Chancellor, if she must, but to get someone in authority to take over. It took two hours but she did get someone in authority to take over. That is only one of many occasions when I felt an 'urge to phone', to discover she was dealing with a problem.

  4. Grannymar: Intriguing that your "urge to phone" was due to a very real problem that you somehow sensed. And what an awful situation to be landed in, looking after a suicidal girl with nobody else taking responsibility. You were quite right to tell her to pester the staff until someone more appropriate took over.

  5. It's hard for me to believe that children raised in a healthy atmosphere resort to violence.

    Nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors.

  6. I'm mostly happily alone most of the day. I suppose society should be wary. It doesn't like introverts.

  7. Bijoux: We may think they were raised in a healthy atmosphere, but clearly there was something going on that wasn't so healthy.

    Jean: True, people are wary of introverts. They imagine all sorts of dubious goings-on under that quiet exterior. But extroverts can be hiding a lot as well.

  8. Here I am: The next axe murderer. I am an introverted extrovert and an extroverted introvert. Dear dog in heaven, Nick, and not addressed at you - just generally: I so wish people would do away with stereotyping, pigeon holing.

    Fact is we know little about others, even if they are our parents, our children, our siblings, our partner, our friends. Indeed ourselves.

    Observing people over a life time I have found some people will short circuit. Just for a moment. Blow a fuse. Luckily for most it won't be much more than a shouting match, a few plates flying, a slammed door, at most someone might try to strangle you. But, on the whole, people have enough I don't know what to call it: Self restraint? Presence of mind to snap out of their temporary rage before they find they have ruined their own lives (prison etc).

    If I ever found myself in that father's/mother's position I'd probably wade into a deep river. I don't hold parents responsible for all that goes wrong in their offspring's lives - but by god if I had spawned a lunatic it'd be the end of me.

    My heart goes out to this young man. 22 years old. Throwing it all away. What despair with the world he must have felt to take such awful action. On others and himself.


  9. Ursula: I know, extrovert and introvert are stereotypes and we're all somewhere along the spectrum. I do think I'm basically an introvert though - I'm not good at opening up to others.

    True, people short circuit and hopefully no lasting damage is done. But I think this was a lot more than a short circuit - this guy's mind had obviously been on a very warped path for some time.

    I agree, if I was the parent I'd feel pretty emotionally screwed-up about it and quite possibly suicidal at times. It must be a hell of a burden to carry around with you.

    Despair? Fury? Bitterness? Who knows what it was that drove him to such an extreme action?

  10. A most tragic situation all round.

  11. Jenny: The very idea of their child doing something so horrific is probably too much for most parents to contemplate.

  12. There's more to this story than just a quiet child who suddenly became a psychopath. What the rest of that story is - drugs? parental denial? abuse? we may ever know.

  13. Agent: You could be right. There's probably a great deal we don't know about. Elliot's parents were divorced when he was six, which might well have been a factor.

  14. How dreadful. Our older son is very placid but now and again when he was young he would suddenly ... almost burst - as if he'd kept something in for so long that it finally exploded. It took the form of rushing off to his bedroom and slamming doors or suddenly crying over a tiny little thing.
    It was heart-breaking because he'd never really explain what was troubling him either.
    I suppose in the case you mention that type of behaviour is taken to the absolute extreme.

  15. Liz: I guess it's that sort of minor exasperation and upset that gradually builds up into something more destructive, but it's all bottled up and the parents can't see what's happening.

  16. The divorce would only be a serious factor if there was a lot of conflict involved or if the child was used as a pawn. Amicable divorces and civilized co-parenting do not have a strong negative effect.

  17. Agent: Oh I agree, divorce might or might not be a factor, depending on how it's handled. But I have a very vivid memory of my own parents talking of divorce and my mum taking me to view a flat she was planning to move into. It was all extremely upsetting to me.

  18. I am a father who saw his son suffer and come out of it but the price his parents paid during the process is something that I would not like to be paid by other parents. In retrospect it is not bad now, but during the time that the problem existed it was horrendous. I can relate to the father in this case as I have come across similar situations here.

  19. Have you seen the film
    " there's something the matter with Kevin"?
    It touches on the uneasy realization of a mother about her son, who is a killer
    Very interesting

  20. Ramana: I'm very sorry to hear that. It must have been a dreadful time for you. Yes, I'm sure you can relate very strongly to Peter Rodger's situation.

    John: We Need To Talk About Kevin? A brilliant film and a brilliant book. Lionel Shriver explores just that sort of parental dilemma without flinching.

  21. I agree, the ambiguity was unsettling

  22. John: Very unsettling. What was interesting was how his mother was extremely worried about him while his father kept pooh-poohing her concerns and saying he was just acting like a typical teenage boy.