Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mont Vernon, NH: It Happens Everywhere

This weekend, a woman and her daughter were attacked during a 4 AM home invasion on an isolated road in Mont Vernon, NH.  Kimberly Cates, 42, was killed in the attack.  Her daughter, Jaime, 11, survived and is in intensive care.  Four teenagers who live about 15 miles away have been charged in the attack.  The allegation is that these young men selected the house at random because of its isolated location, and agreed to kill whomever they found inside.  Depending on which coverage you read, they either intended to rob the house and would kill the occupants if necessary, or they went in with the sole intent of killing the occupants.

This is a horrific crime by any standard.  It is made to appear even more awful by the fact that the last violent crime in Mont Vernon, before this one, was 10 years ago.  The statements being made by residents and even officials in the aftermath of this incident reflect the fact that the traumatizing thing about this crime is not just the crime itself, but how unexpected it was in this town:

From the Senior Assistant Attorney General:
"This type of murder does not happen very often. This is something out of the ordinary."

From the senior photo editor of the Nashua (NH) Telegraph:
"The people up here aren't used to this kind of thing. This never really happens."

From a resident:
"I've lived in Mont Vernon for 40 years, and this is just unbelievable."

From the chair of the Mont Vernon board of selectmen:
“It’s very much that bucolic, Norman-Rockwell-type New England setting. . . . This brings it home, that people who do bad things are everywhere, not just in big cities.”

From a neighbor:
"It's just unbelievable that this could happen next door to us."

I will admit that none of these statements sat well with me at first blush.  On the one hand, I certainly understand that violence is more prevalent in some places than in others, and that Mont Vernon, before this weekend, had been one of the "others."  On the other hand, it can appear that by saying, "this isn't supposed to happen here," people imply that it is supposed to happen somewhere else, when of course it shouldn't happen anywhere.

At the same time, I think we all intuitively understand that violent crime is more shocking when it occurs in a place with very little violence.  It's not too hard to imagine why, either.  The more violence you are exposed to on a regular basis, the more your world view incorporates the possibility of violence.  When a violent death occurs, it is not as violating of your deeply held beliefs, because those have already shifted ahead of time to accept the possibility that something like this could happen.  In some sense, people who live in violent communities get their pre-incident inoculation training simply by living where they do every day.

It's important to remember, however, that no amount of pre-incident inoculation can prepare you for this happening to someone close to you.  It is one thing to know that violence happens in your community and to not be traumatized when it occurs around the corner or down the block.  It is quite another to be "used to" someone in your family being murdered in their own home.  I don't think that is possible.  While our world view may come to incorporate the possibility of violence, it can't really incorporate the sudden and violent death of someone important to us.

When it comes right down to it, the greater power of incidents like this murder in Mont Vernon is its effect on the community, not on those closely tied to the victim.  Whether you live in Mont Vernon, NH or Detroit or L.A., if someone you love is murdered in their bed you will be traumatized.  The power of the Mont Vernon murder is in its impact on the other residents.  No one in Detroit or L.A. thinks this sort of thing doesn't happen here.  For Mont Vernon, this is a very traumatic wake-up call.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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