When mothers kill kids, twisted altruism may be factor, experts say

January 14, 2017
in Kids

With the slaying of her two young children followed by her own suicide, Carla Lopez-Mejia joined a dark sisterhood. The Lake in the Hills woman, 27, allegedly strangled her son, Ezequiel Garcia, 11, and her daughter, Ariana Garcia, 8, before hanging herself. The bodies were discovered in the family's townhouse Tuesday afternoon. Investigators have released few details about Lopez-Mejia, and those who knew her have offered no reason why she would commit such a ghastly act. But psychiatrists and others who have studied mothers who kill their children say the cases often share several hallmarks: mental illness, social isolation and a twisted sense of altruism. "There's usually this impulse toward protecting the child," said Michelle Oberman, a law professor at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., and the author of two books about maternal filicide (the killing of one's own child). "She's not rational. She's deeply disturbed. But the narrative (in her mind) runs that a good mother doesn't leave her children unprotected." A 2014 survey of 32 years of filicide arrest data found that 42 percent of the killers were mothers, and that the vast majority of victims were under the age of 7. Dr. Phillip Resnick, a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland who has studied child killings for decades, said about half of fathers who kill their children commit suicide, compared with only about a quarter of mothers. But those figures, he added, are misleading. "That is not because mothers try less often," he said. "It's because fathers tend to use more fatal methods, such as gunshots, so they succeed more often." The...

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