Sunday, May 5, 1996
Deadly parents leave a scar on all of us

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Just in case anybody has missed the message: motherhood does not confer goodness on bad people. Neither does fatherhood. There are many miracles of birth, but this is not one of them.

It does not even bestow good sense. Witness the peculiar life and senseless death of a 7-year-old child who flew an airplane in full view of an entire country.

In the past year, we have met Rhonda Brown of Clermont County who hit her 8-year-old son so hard that his liver ruptured. Then she put him, still alive, in her car and drove to a county road and arranged his body under the wheels. She drove over the child and left him, still breathing, in a ditch to die surrounded by cigarette butts and beer cans, a used condom and a SuperAmerica cup.

A week later, 12 jurors in South Carolina decided that Susan Smith carefully strapped her two little boys in their car seats, then watched them drown.

Suspicious neighbors

The following month, Therressa Jolynn Ritchie was arrested for the murder of her 4-year-old daughter, Samantha. Police said the child stumbled upon her mother having sex with a neighbor. This miserable creature testified that he stood there with his pants in his hands while the child was clubbed to death.

Another neighbor had the gall to admit that when Samantha came to her door in the middle of the night, she shut the door in this baby's face. Mrs. Ritchie was the only one found guilty.

Right now, doctors at Children's Hospital Medical Center are studying a Florida girl who may have been systematically poisoned. By her mother. For the next two or three weeks, doctors will be trying to find out whether 8-year-old Jennifer Bush is the victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

That's a bizarre psychological disorder in which the parent, almost always the mother, makes her child sick in order to gain attention. Dr. Herbert Schreier, chief of psychiatry at the Children's Hospital of Oakland, Calif., says most people assume all women naturally make good mothers. But "these are damaged women, impostors of good mothers and doctors can't bring themselves to doubt them."

And we're nice people. We don't like to interfere.

Last week Anthony Duke, 5, his sister Jade Edwards, 3, and 18-month-old brother, Robert Edwards, died in a house fire in Price Hill. When we hear something like this, most of us want to go home and hug our kids. Not a bad idea. But not quite good enough.

These kids were abused and neglected. Neighbors, even grandparents, came forward to talk about it to reporters. And, indeed, they also had contacted authorities. The county was due to investigate accusations that Mr. Edwards had sexually molested his daughter.

Saving the children

I'm sorry to review these things with you, to shove them at you while you're trying to eat your Cheerios. Gratuitous violence? I don't think so. It's worth considerable discomfort to remind ourselves that these babies can't help themselves. They can't hop on a bus, drive away or fight back. They just have to wait and hope somebody notices the bruises, the filthy diaper, the shouting.

Then they have to hope that somebody won't give up until they're saved.

Not one of these children lived on a deserted island. They were surrounded by people who, although unrelated by blood, have a stake in what happened to them. And a responsibility.

Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a book called It Takes a Village. The rest of the sentiment, an African proverb, is that it takes a village to raise a child. Typically, Mrs. Clinton has been questioned as to whether this really has its roots in Africa, whether she really wrote the book, whether this means she's opposed to the nuclear family and motherhood. Not to mention apple pie.

For once, could we ignore our natural inclination to savage the First Lady and pay some attention? She's right, you know.

And we are the village.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz) and is a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.