Attempted murder – Seeking justice both after and before the fact

lady justiceThere seems to be two reactions to the Stapleton story:

1. The search for justice and the need to place blame where blame is deserved.
2. The need to know how this happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

These are both good reactions. Both of these things need to happen. Kelli needs to be held accountable. Every murderer/attempted murderer does. But also, if she wasn’t ever the type of person to do that before, and now she is, we need to know how that happened.

The difference I’m seeing here, however, is that group 1 is outright attacking group 2 but not the other way around. I can only assume that this is because, instead of raising pitch forks and being outraged, those that seek out more answers are seen as some how supporting Kelli or at least, not blaming her. As if the need to seek out an explanation as to how this happened is seen as an attempt to find a reason to let her off the hook. It’s not.

I am in group 2. And here’s why:

I know Kelli is at fault. I know she’s wrong. I don’t blame anyone but her. I don’t now nor can I ever forgive her for making her decision no matter what brought her to that point. So in my mind, that’s taken care of. I don’t need to write about it. Besides, the authorities haven’t even had time to pick up a pen yet… so let’s see where they go with this. If somehow she is excused… then please, pass me a pitch fork.

Until then, is there another mother, or father, maybe I know them, or maybe I don’t, that I may be reading about in the news tomorrow when I thought they were fine yesterday? How can I know? What should I be aware of? How can I prevent it?

You can hate me because I didn’t write about how terrible she is, or how evil any parent is that would do this, and you can certainly think I’m just being diplomatic if you have to.

Whether you think I’m doing right or wrong, I still support you and back you and think it’s great if you are outraged and want to see Kelli hang for this (proverbially or literally). Please do. More.

While you’re doing that though, let me see if I can find a way to stop the next child from facing a similar fate.

The way I see it, hating Kelli for what she did (and yes, I really do) isn’t going to stop it from happening to someone else.

I missed this one. I let Issy down.

I need to know how to not miss the next one.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

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21 Responses to Attempted murder – Seeking justice both after and before the fact

  1. Krystal September 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Thank you for this because right now we are so divided when what we should be doing is using our anger an outrage to find a solution and a way to prevent this. It could have easily been any one of us and if we continue to attack one another, we may miss out on the cries for help o those who need it most. Much love!

  2. Rob Gorski September 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I can’t believe this. I’ve spoken with Kelli a few times in the past. This is unreal and I don’t know what to say. 🙁

  3. Mike Henderson September 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    I literally just finished reading a blog post from someone who is emphatically in group one. Thanks for a more clear eyed look at things. I am the father of an 8 year old Autistic boy who lives a 30 minute drive from the Stapletons, and I am finding it hard to get my brain around these events. No one I know is excusing these actions, but the escalating umbrage is not helping matters.

  4. juliesboyz September 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    I totally agree with your excellent take, Scott. I also am firmly in group 2 and yet I got blasted on my blog post for just stating how the hate wasn’t helping. There are so many arguments in the autism community, can’t we just try pull together to prevent it from ever happening again?!?!?!?!

  5. OMum22 September 6, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    Maybe I’m in both groups then? I don’t know, but I specifically titled my blog post “Is there anything we can do to prevent parents murdering their disabled children?” for a reason. Because I’d like it to stop. I think I may have a post in me about cognitive dissonance because who people react differently to child abuse or murder, depending on whether or not they know the person, we also need to understand why that is.

  6. J-Nut September 6, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I fall into this camp: “While you’re doing that though, let me see if I can find a way to stop the next child from facing a similar fate.”

    I keep saying it is no longer enough to just hate, to vilify and say “monster!” Because that isn’t working. We can simultaneously have empathy and say this mother took the unequivocally wrong path. We can’t just say “get help” but not provide that help. And we certainly don’t need to add to the conversation of hate. That gets us nowhere.

  7. Chris September 6, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    I don’t understand how anyone can choose one “camp” (ugh, don’t like talking about it this way) over another. I feel that everyone should strive to understand both sides. There should be ONE camp of advocates that believes in fighting to help those in need because we will not tolerate the idea that death is better than disability, or that disability is an excuse for death.

  8. Stan September 6, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    For me, the cognitive dissonance between 1 and 2 kicks in as folks like Lexi Sweatpants, who were firmly in the It Is Horrific, Unacceptable and Incomprehensible for Parents to Murder their Autistic Kid and Worthy of Vilification Camp when Alex S. was brutally murdered by his mom (whom she did not know personally) to Oh My God Kelli Will Be Villified for Doing the Exact Same Thing, with the only difference being that Lexi knew and was friends wil Kelli:

    Somehow knowing the person who committed the monstrous act makes it… understandable, somehow??

    In a very sad way, it reminded my of a NYT essay “When a Beloved Teacher is Also a Rapist” — in which a mom writes about her son’s drama teacher who is accused of the rape of a minor, where there is substantial evidence indicating the teacher is guilty but where the mom somehow manages to justify the man’s action, WELL beyond the point she would if it was a stranger, well beyond the point of common sense, as she knew the teacher and thought he was a good guy:

    • Anonymous September 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

      I think you’ve missed the point of Lexi’s post. Nowhere does she excuse the act or say she understands it. Only that knowing Kelli has provided a different perspective. One that makes it harder to reconcile what we thought we knew with what happened.

    • militaryspecialneedsnetwork September 9, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

      You can’t understand how Lexi, or anyone who thought they “knew” Kelli might have multiple, conflicting emotions? How the person they believed to be wonderful, loving, strong turned and did something monstrous, incredibly selfish, and incomprehensible might leave a friend or confidant reeling?

    • Autism and Oughtisms September 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

      Ironically, it’s the very concept of cognitive dissonance which can explain what you’re complaining about: the difficulty we have making sense of people we know and care about doing a horrendous unthinkable act. Quite independently of that point, it’s profoundly unfair to say Lexi was claiming the act was “understandable,” that’s misrepresenting her in a rather mean-spirited way. I’m yet to see a single person say that what Kelli did was just fine or actually justifiable, but I’ve seen very many people misrepresent bloggers as if they were claiming such a thing. Attempting to understand and explain, is not the same as justifying or acceptance of the act at issue. Conflating the two together is unhelpful and hurtful.

  9. Jen September 7, 2013 at 12:10 am #

    I guess I am in both groups as well. I hate this woman for what she did to her child. Maybe it’s easier for me bc I never spoke with her online. Something about her rubbed me the wrong way from the beginning, but then, maybe I should have taken that as a sign that something was terribly wrong. I am not, however, ONLY hating on her. I, too, believe something needs to be done. Something real. I think as a community we need to not be afraid to ask for help, and open ourselves up those those who need that support. I also think there needs to be a way to save these kids. I don’t think group 1 and 2 are mutually exclusive. I just personally have no compassion for this woman, and won’t for any parent who decides this is the answer. And, let’s be realistic, she was not without help. Her last blog post outlined a lot of great supports. Way more than most. People helped her raise the money for treatment. Sure, she was looking at fighting the school system, but I did that last year. Hardcore. Advocates, lawyers, doctors, a kid out of school, thousands of dollars spent. Never once did I think it was so hard I needed to end it all. I’ve dealt with serious aggression, others have dealt with these things. I don’t doubt her life was hard, but It’s just not an excuse. I guess to me it feels like hollow words when people say what she did was wrong, yet also say she must not have been mentally stable. Then that IS an excuse. There is no magical solution, no sudden flush of money to help everyone. We need to find a way to never let this happen to another child. To find support within our own community. To see the red flags ourselves…bc I know I saw some from Issy’s mom long ago…instead of unfollowing her blog, I should have done something more. There needs to be an alternative, a safe place for these kids. Family members need to be more aware. Doctors, therapists. Stuff like this doesn’t just happen. You don’t commit murder having never thought about it before.

    These children are the victims. They need people who will fight to protect them. I just can’t have compassion for the mother. I just cannot. But it doesn’t mean I’ll hate her, and do nothing else. Those who you put in group 1 probably want to change things more than anyone else.

  10. Jen September 7, 2013 at 12:16 am #

    I also agree that it’s those who thought they knew here that are having an issue really pointing the finger. When Alex was murdered, the same bloggers wanted his mother burned at the stake. Tweeting someone a couple times doesn’t mean you really know someone. Maybe this woman had everyone fooled. It’s interesting how things are different when you consider the guilty party a “friend”. Although, I can’t imagine feeling compassion for even a real life friend in this situation. But to me, it’s a very black and white thing.

  11. nikki September 7, 2013 at 5:05 am #

    i am in camp 1. sort of. i believe it is wrong to blame the system, to point to the sustained aggression and the ‘being at the end of the rope’ situation to ‘explain’ what happens. yes, it does sound like excusing and justifying it and that can’t be right. what happened for me though, is that when i saw the blog of Isabelle’s mother, this women so many of you seem to know, online or even offline, several flags went up. And they were not about the severity of Issy’s aggression but about the mental state of the mother, her attitude to the obvious problems she was facing, daily, with Issy, with ‘the system’ in spite of a tremendous amount of ‘supporters’ online, donations and A LOT of publicity for her case. I believe that her own incapability to cope was quite obvious and that yes, her ‘intensity’ might have been what would have been the most toxic for her autistic child. I did not do anything, i could not deal with that either, from the distance, I am not even on the continent. but the failure here is not a certainly imperfect system in the US, it is her failure to give up, her failure to surrender. Trying to end it all for BOTH of them, I can only see this as an act of psychosis, certainly not of premeditated murder, but it remains the most inconceivable act a parent can possibly do, it is a massive moral crime. And she alone is responsible for that.
    ANYONE who has similar thoughts, who feels that it is even remotely ‘understandable’, needs to urgently get help, from professionals, and respite of whatever form. because even ‘warrior mums’ can turn against their own children and sometimes they might not realize when they already do.

  12. Stan September 7, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

    Like Jen said, Kelli had a TON of support, she had managed to obtain pretty much every support known to mankind for her daughter! Coming off 6+ mos at the special autism boarding school, Kelli had lined up a Medicaid waiver, staff and volunteers trained on Issy’s specific behavior plan, funding from said waiver to cover a 1:1 PCA for all of Issy’s waking hours, plus a church for her daughter to do crafts in at the weekend (as her girl was less aggressive when kept busy), supportive husband/family, etc. — every support in the universe except the school placement of her choice (a decision that was a week old and presumably appealable!).

    There is no question that there are many, many families with autistic kids who are desperately in need of more support — but I really, truly don’t think the Stapletons are among them. And that’s what is so very, very scary — Kelli had all the support in the UNIVERSE for Issy. More support than 99.9% of autism families… and yet this tragedy STILL happened!!!

    • Autism and Oughtisms September 9, 2013 at 11:44 pm #

      Stan, doesn’t that inability to comprehend what happened then make you think that it’s not as black-and-white as whether someone is evil or not? Doesn’t it imply that we need to seek answers, because we don’t have them right now? We don’t know enough to declare Kelli to have been sane at the time (in fact, the point that she tried to kill herself at the same time says a lot here), and she clearly didn’t pursue the death for personal gain since she wasn’t going to be around to take any benefit from what happened, which means we have more questions than answers here.

      Did she have adequate support? Maybe in some areas but not where and when she really needed it. Maybe she had enough from person X’s perspective but not person Y’s. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Surely with all these maybes, we don’t have enough information to declare what caused this just yet.

    • Christine Mack September 9, 2013 at 11:46 pm #

      The funny thing about when people under extreme mental duress snap is that they don’t know when it’s going to happen. Logic doesn’t enter the equation. Sometimes people don’t show the symptoms. She should totally be tried under the law. Completely but FAIRLY and by people without pitchforks.

      Even if everyone and their brother were trained, mental illness can still be missed. Both my parents were cops and they didn’t know I was being raped and beaten by my own brother. When I had a nervous breakdown I didn’t see it coming at all. All of sudden it was like my mind threw up all this awful stuff. Not everything fits into a nice, neat little box.

      • tammymcgann September 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

        Thank you, Christine. Truly. My aunt who suffered from a psychotic break and attempted to murder my sister had been raped by her father (my grandfather) for YEARS from the age of 7. And my grandmother knew about it from the start, but continued to look the other way. Growing up with that knowledge changes you and makes you more willing to forgive. Because you never know what somebody has suffered through before they snap and do the unthinkable.

  13. tammymcgann September 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    I’m not an important person in the Autism Community so my words will have little impact, but my aunt attempted to drown my sister in the midst of a psychotic break. And we’ve all forgiven her for it because it happened nearly 30 years ago. I guess I’m in a camp all alone because I get it. The amount of psychosis on both sides of my family is pretty “impressive”, so I guess my life experiences put me in a unique position to be willing to forgive what others would deem “the unforgiveable”. And that makes me grateful for the horrors that I’ve survived. Because I wouldn’t trade my compassion and understanding for anything. I’m a better person because of it.

  14. autisticook September 26, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    I don’t know what camp I’m in. I’ve refrained from writing much about it because I feel the pain on both sides, and I admit to feeling that autistic bloggers should be allowed to express their anger and grief about what happened, because it’s scary to be part of any minority group. But saying that others don’t have a right to feel upset in different ways because they’re not autistic isn’t very helpful either. I feel compassion for everyone involved in this tragedy, including the mother. Yes, I feel compassion for her. I also feel compassion for child molesters, because I think you need to be seriously fucked up to get to that point, and that is not a happy place to be. Is it an excuse? NO. Do I feel sympathy? NO. But I can wish that those people would have had a life where those acts would be inconceivable, like they are for me. And that is the place my compassion comes from.

    What I find inexcusable in this whole tragedy is the role of the media. Not the parents, not the people who know Kelli or Isabelle or any other members of the family, not the autistic people who feel their very existence is threatened on a regular basis. The media are spinning this story to be all and only about the struggle against autism. And by doing that, they’re fueling the concept of autism as something that is inherently tragic. The tragedy is no longer portrayed to be in the attempted murder of a child, but in autism itself.

    Judy Endow wrote what the news stories *should* have been:

    “Issy Stapleton, 14, remained hospitalized in Grand Rapids, Michigan late Wednesday after her mother, Kelli Stapleton, allegedly attempted to murder her.

    State police Lt. Kip Belcher said two portable charcoal grills were burning inside the vehicle where Issy was found unconscious. He said the van’s windows were shut and investigators believe Issy’s mother intended to murder her daughter.

    Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Tang-Anderson said authorities don’t believe the incident was an accident. Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson said she authorized a felony attempted murder charge.

    Belcher says Issy may have suffered permanent brain damage from the carbon monoxide poisoning. Issy’s mother was also found in the van and though unconscious when found, is expected to make a full recovery and is expected to be arraigned yet this week in 85th District Court.

    Attempted murder carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment with parole.”

    Yet no news outlet wrote about it in that way. And that, I think, is where we should direct our grief and anger. Not at each other.


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