Latch Key Killers

Susan M. Taylor, Indiana University - South Bend

There is a hidden crisis that plagues American children- absent parents. Children thrive in homes where parents are present. They are more likely to develop serious lapses in moral, emotional, and intellectual development if they are left on their own.

In March, 2001, when the latest teen-age killer to make national news opened fire, in a high school near San Diego with the deadliest display of such violence since the murders at Columbine, the public scrambled for explanations for his behavior. Looking back, there are two other "celebrity" killers whose childhood backgrounds bear a striking resemblance to the San Diego killer. All three cases involved parental divorce in middle childhood, after which the mothers abandoned the boys. These were teenagers who spend most of their time either unsupervised or in other people's homes. These two young men were Timothy McVeigh and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Divorce and out-of-wedlock births means that the country is guaranteed a steady quotient of single-parent, nor more often than not, often absent parent homes. Futhermore, the exodus of women- meaning mothers, both divorced and otherwise- out of the home and into the workplace will also result in absent parent homes.

What troubles the public about these teen-age killers is not that they seem anomalous, but precisely that they may be embelmatic.

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Updated 05/20/2006