Friday, December 4, 2009

Indiana Boy Murdered By His Brother: How Can This Happen?

Conner Conley, an Indiana 10 year-old, was murdered last Saturday night.  He was strangled, apparently by his 17 year-old brother, who later turned himself in.  He compared the feeling of killing Conner to fulfilling a craving for a hamburger.  He said he identified with Dexter Morgan, the serial killer on Showtime's "Dexter."  The brother pled not guilty today, but his parents weren't in court.  They were at the funeral home for the visitation.

Stories like this make us look a little sideways at our own children.  Every one of us believes, when our child joins our family, that he or she is perfect.  We are disabused of that notion in many small ways early on, but the fundamental belief is there.  These are our kids, and they are good.  Conner's brother was a baby once.  His parents saw him the same way.  What went wrong between then and now?  And how sure are we that whatever it is won't happen to our child?

The easiest place to lay blame here is on the television program.  This boy said he watched the program, said he identified with the killer on the program, and killed his own brother.  The show must be to blame.  But it's probably not that simple.  While the show may not have helped anything, no sane, well adjusted, rational person not under the influence of any substances will watch the show and suddenly be beset with the urge to kill their brother.  Even if they were, they wouldn't do it.  This boy says he's fantasized about killing someone since 8th grade, but "Dexter" didn't start airing until he was in 9th.  It is far more likely that he was drawn to the show because he was thinking about murder, rather than the show giving him ideas.

In my experience, it is very rare for something like this to happen completely out of the blue.  Conner's parents left him in his brother's care, so obviously they were not expecting this exact thing to happen.  At the same time, however, it's unlikely that they had no inkling that their older son had some problems.  Investigators describe him as calm and emotionless about the murder.  That means he probably has no or little conscience.  It's hard for someone not to notice that anything is amiss in a kid like that.

So what went wrong?  We may never know.  How sure are we that our own kids won't go wrong?  Not very.  But we can be assured that turning into a teenager who kills his brother does not happen overnight, and that there are chances along the way to stop it from happening, or at least take precautions.  If it's going to happen, there may be signs.  We can't be 100% sure, but then we never are when it comes to our children. 

I can't even bring myself to write about what Conner's parents must be going through right now.  I know all you Quarterbackers join me in sending our best and most supportive wishes to them.


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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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