Why Do Kids Kill Their Parents?


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Matricide. Patricide. Parricide. Whatever phrase you choose, we're talking children killing parents here. Though statistically rare, such murders happen roughly 300 times a year in this country.

Before we get all lathered up about today's wayward youth, though, keep this in mind: The reverse - parents who kill their children - happens twice as often.

But given recent local incidents dominating headlines, perhaps it's time for a quick tutorial on a particular homicide that literally hits home.

Let's first break down the terminology into plain English. Matricide is the word coined and used by criminologists, social researchers and others who study homicide to describe the murder of a mother by a child. Patricide is the slaying of a father. Parricide is the more generic term for killing either or both parents.

These are always shocking crimes. But they should hardly surprise anyone. History and literature, from the Bible to police blotters, are replete with examples. We are a species that hurts - and sometimes kills - the ones we supposedly love. Roughly 10 percent to 16 percent of annual homicides occur within families, according to government research.

Kathleen Heide has spent at least the past quarter century researching such crimes, particularly adolescent killers of parents. A professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, Heide has also penned at least two well-received books on the subject. As a member of the Homicide Research Working Group, a coalition of national academics and others studying why humans kill each other, Heide's research has come up with three distinct categories of such child killers.

"One type is the severely abused child who kills to end the abuse,'' Heide explained this week. "A second is the adolescent or young adult with a severe mental illness who kills - mostly alone - as a result of the illness.

"The third," she added, "is the dangerously anti-social personality who kills for selfish or instrumental reasons, such as getting freedom, getting money, to get a boyfriend or a girlfriend.''

Those last two scenarios may have played out in the metro area during the past few months.

This week, authorities in Chaska charged 20-year-old Grant Everson with conspiring with three friends to kill his parents. The son's mother, Nancy Everson, was allegedly gunned to death by one of the friends early Sunday morning inside the victim's home. The father managed to escape through a bedroom window.

The apparent motive? According to a criminal complaint, the son wanted to collect on insurance money and open a coffee shop in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

On Dec. 30, hours after being turned away from mental health treatment facility, a 23-year old man killed and decapitated his 68-year old stepmother inside their Burnsville home, police said.

Two months earlier, a 17-year old Hastings youth and a high school friend gunned down his parents inside the victim's auto glass store in what was planned as an armed robbery, police said. Again, the motive seems incomprehensible: The son was reportedly angry with his parents, largely over arguments over missing a church service, flirting with younger girls at church and wanting to go to a different church.

Two years ago, Heide and a research colleague analyzed 24 years' worth of such killings, from 1976 to 1999. Here's what they gleaned:

Other research has found that the overwhelming number of offenders are children or adults who were physically or emotionally abused.

"The cases where both parents are killed are even rarer - they happen about 20 to 30 times a year,'' Heide said. "And it's not unusual for the person to recruit others to help them carry it out.''

As a retired New York City homicide investigator and squad commander who has either investigated or supervised more than 8,000 homicide cases in his career, Vernon Geberth has heard just about every motive possible.

He wonders if there is a "copycat" angle between the killings in Hastings and the one this week in Chaska.

"I can't help but wonder whether the news coverage of the first event did not in fact spur the second case,'' said Geberth, who also authored what has been described in law enforcement as the "bible" of homicide investigation textbooks.

"Today, there is a plethora of violence, which begins at an early age as the child is exposed to entertainment violence through TV, videos, DVDs and older siblings who act as models of this violent behavior,'' Geberth said. "Now if you couple that exposure with a dysfunctional household, you have a recipe for disaster.''

Valid point. But this has been going on for a while. I wonder what TV show the then 22-year-old Roman emperor Nero was watching in A.D. 59. when he ordered his mother's murder for conspiring against him.

Ruben Rosario can be reached at rrosario@pioneerpress.com or 651 228-5454.

Recent parricide cases in the Twin Cities area:

June 26, 2005: Brenda Kirksey, 50, is found beaten to death in her St. Paul home. Police arrest Michael Sevier, 23, the youngest of Kirksey's six children, and his girlfriend on suspicion of homicide. In November, Sevier pleads guilty to second-degree intentional murder and is later sentenced to nearly 27 years in prison for the slaying, which followed an argument.
Oct. 8, 2005: Peter and Patricia Niedere, both 52, are shot to death inside their Hastings business. Within hours, police arrest the couple's son, Matthew Niedere, 17, and his friend, Clayton Keister, 17, of Blaine. A third teen linked to the murders, Jamie Patton, 18, of East Bethel, Minn., is arrested two days later. Police say Matthew Niedere promised to pay his friends $15,000 each from his parents' estate if they helped in the killings. Niedere was angry with his parents, largely over arguments about church.
Dec. 12, 2005: Lea Klande, 69, is fatally shot in her St. Paul apartment. Police say Klande's 45-year-old son, Laverne Klande, killed her during an argument. The fight allegedly occurred after Lea Klande retrieved and stored her son's vehicle, which was impounded after his seventh DWI arrest.
Dec. 30, 2005: Hours after reportedly being turned away from mental health treatment at Fairview-Southdale Hospital in Edina, 23-year-old Stephen Miles of Eagan allegedly strikes his 68-year-old stepmother in the head with a hatchet. Miles then uses a knife to decapitate Maris Jo Miles in the kitchen of her Burnsville home, steps outside and tells his father what he has done, authorities say.
Jan. 15, 2006: Nancy Everson, 52, is shot and killed inside her Chaska home. Her husband, Tom Everson, escapes out a window. Their son, Grant Everson, 20, and three friends - Joel Beckrich, 20, Christopher Fuhrman, 20, and Michael Gulden, 17 - are arrested in an alleged plot to kill Everson's parents to collect insurance money and open a coffee shop in Amsterdam.

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