Cocalico Corner: A nightmare sadly revisited

By on August 10, 2016
Donna Reed, author of the weekly column, Cocalico Corner

For our neighbors just over the Cocalico line in Berks County, a nightmare unfolded this past hazy humid Saturday afternoon.

In a quiet upscale development, the unthinkable occurred: the violent deaths of five members of a family, three of them children. And one of those children, a two-year-old toddler, had escaped death a week after her birth when she’d received a heart transplant.

The family was not unknown: they’d been profiled in local media as well as in the New York Times which in July 2015 highlighted the parents’ struggles to obtain anti-rejection medication for their toddler.

When local police responded and entered the house, they found everyone dead of gunshot wounds, even the family dog. The gun was found near one of the parent’s hand. Neither the Berks County District Attorney nor the coroner’s offices have disclosed which parent may have fired the shots, but, as of press time, the incident is being referred to as murder-suicide, according to reports.

The tragedy has garnered national attention and Facebook has been so rife with activity that it was, at one point in the last few days, “trending” at the top. News posts are shared and FB folks speculate on alleged marital or financial matters or other possible catalysts for the massacre.

In a summer news cycle studded with mass murders from Orlando to the South of France, it may seem we’ve grown accustomed to the carnage, hardened by it. After all, it’s terrorism.

But there’s something different, personal about that family next door, the people whose daily comings and goings are acknowledged with neighborly waves and nods, the children who romp with their cherished dog on the front yard. Even if we didn’t know them, we feel we might have.

Suddenly, horribly, irrevocably they’re all gone. It’s not terrorism — or maybe it is on a micro scale. What really went on behind those closed doors, behind the smiles? We way never know, but scores of family members, acquaintances and friends, classmates and co-workers will be impacted by this for the rest of their days.

This has happened before just over the Cocalico border in Berks. It was in March of 2000 that an estranged husband smothered his two young children and then killed himself, an act of ultimate revenge on his wife who had gained custody of the siblings. On Jan. 1 of that year, the first day of the new millennium, just north of Reading, a husband chased his three young stepchildren into their bedrooms and shot them after having killed his wife. He then turned the gun on himself.

I refer to these cases because I recall the personal impact. The daughter, smothered by her dad, was a grammar school classmate of my son. They shared the same friends, went to the same birthday parties, were the same age.

Two of the siblings shot down by their stepdad were in the same Little League organization as my son, albeit not close friends.

At age 25, he still remembers the trauma of those days in 2000. And, now, sadly, history repeats itself for our family and, I’m sure, many others.

My little great niece, at age 8, will come home from summer vacation to learn her fellow Brownie troop member is dead. Her mom, the troop leader, will have so much to explain to her own little girl and others.

My boy was almost the same age when his friend and her brother died. The Catholic grade school they attended tried its best to help the stunned children cope.

But, as we parents learned even as the weeks and months passed, our kids would follow up with questions at the oddest times. And those questions could be shocking in their bluntness.

I recall nearly veering off the road when my then little boy, out of the blue, asked: “Do you think you or Dad would ever kill me?” To this day, that memory is chilling.

I suspect a lot of parents of these children’s friends will find themselves in same situation we all did. I suspect my nephew and niece will be among them.

It’s doubtful anyone will ever learn the full story behind last Saturday’s tragedy. It will always remain a mystery if it could have been averted.

Maybe the best we can all do is try to open ourselves to neighbors and friends a bit more, exchange more than a wave and a smile, and hope that the kids we see playing in the summer sun all get their chances to grow up.

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