Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
DES MOINES, Iowa — The plate clatter grows around dinner time at Spaghetti Works here in Des Moines’ historical district. A family enters with two young boys. I look at them and my eyes tear up. A couple comes in with a teenage son. I think about what I read months ago about an ill-fated teen and feel a huge sense of grief.
I’m thinking of the horrific final moments of some kids who didn’t deserve to die or die before they reached adulthood. They didn’t deserve their unspeakably terrifying, painful and shocking final moments. Their tragic stories haunted me when I read them and they haunt my dreams still.
Their stories beg the question of what kind of media and entertainment “imprinting” our society does so that ticking-time-bomb-like, mentally unstable people transform into faces of utter evil — and perform unspeakable acts, as if they’ve had so much experience doing it before.
These kids will never sit at dinner with friends. Never be around for years to be a joy (or pain) for their families. They won’t date, marry, or decide not to marry. They were betrayed — and their lives snuffed out — by relatives or friends they fatally trusted. They died in horrifying murderous acts symbolizing the madness we have almost accept after a 20th century, where the biggest brutalities were totalitarian government sanctioned murder. Now our outrages have become ever so more personal.
On Feb. 11 more than a thousand people grieved for Charlie Powell, 7, and his brother, Braden, 5 in Tacoma. Their father, Josh Powel, was a person of interest in the disappearance of their mother, Susan. Josh Powell became unfettered evil when a social worker dropped the kids off. He locked her out, was heard telling his sons “I have a surprise for you…” — then chopped them up with a hatchet and blew up his house.
What kind of lifetime mental images created someone who could come up with such a terrifying final ending?
Last April there was news of Florida’s Seath Jackson, 15, who was caught in a teenage love triangle, lured to see a former girlfriend, then attacked by four teens who beat him with a wooden object, shot him repeatedly, put him a bathtub and broke his knees so he’d fit in a bag, then burned his remains into ash and bone fragments. The four teens were thankfully put away for a long time.
But what mental images helped them do what they did the way they did it with such efficacy?
Yes, there have been assassinations, murders, mass murderers and serial killers throughout history. The 20th century saw assembly-line-like state sanctioned mass murder in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. But it has gotten personal in America. A new movie, “Murder by Proxy: How America Went Postal,” looks at the string of post office mass murders by angry employees that began in the mid-80s. Since then we’ve seen school kids killing fellow students and teachers. Workplace and school bullying are big issues now.
But where does the imprinting come that blueprints and scripts these violent acts?
So I sit here realizing I’m lucky because I’m HERE. I’ve been blessed. I reached my 20s and will reach my senior years. I have loving relatives, good friends and a mother who is 90.
But Charlie and Braden lost their mother two years ago and even a head of cabbage at Vons supermarket now knows Daddy Josh murdered her. Seth’s parents never saw their son again. His young murderers totally obliterated him off the face of the earth as surely as Josh Powell totally obliterated his kids in the explosion.
Charlie, Braden and Seth: you deserved happier experiences in your short appearances on life’s always-too-brief stage. You were terribly cheated and are proof that “life is not fair.”
But it can be a mite less unfair if the rest of us never forget you and what happened to you. Some of us won’t. And some of us will continue to ask “why?”
Copyright 2012 Joe Gandelman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at email@example.com and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.