Thursday, December 30, 2010

Confronting the Nightmare Reflected in Jonathan Foster's Murder

Jonathan Foster was a 12-year-old boy living with his mother in Houston.  Two weeks ago, a family friend and her child moved in after the friend separated from her husband.  Last Friday, Jonathan stayed home alone while his mom and her new roommate both worked.  When his mother came home, he was gone.  Initially, it seemed like Jonathan might have run away from home, but on Tuesday his body was found, burnt, in a ditch.  An acquaintance of the roommate has been arrested and charged with his murder.

I can't imagine anyone reads a story like this and thinks anything positive.  This is not a feel good news story.  There are some of you out there who read this and think something like, "that's too bad" and move on.  There are others who read this and feel a punch in your stomach.  I am definitely of the latter category.

So, am I an inherently more sensitive person?  Am I morally superior because I notice and care?  Am I weaker, because I am more easily affected?  Is it a female thing?  I'll say it's "none of the above."

This story punches me in the gut for the simple reason that I have a 12-year-old child of my own.  Sometimes she stays home alone while I work.  We have gone over and over various safety rules for when she's alone, and I believe she follows them.  I also recognize, however, that Jonathan probably broke the one that's hardest to remember -- don't open the door for an unexpected visitor even if you know them.  Even if you know them.  It's easy to say in theory, but how may 12-year-olds would find it easy to keep the door closed if the neighbor, an aunt, or a family friend stopped by?  There's the rule, and then there's common courtesy.

I feel a punch in the gut because there is nothing in this story that makes me believe this could not happen to my family.  There is no, "I would never let my child do that" or "My child would never do that" for me to fall back on.  What separates my family from Jonathan Foster's family is depending on how you look at it, dumb luck or the fact that, as far as I know, I'm not acquainted with anyone who would kidnap and burn my child.  That I know of.  I'm sure Jonathan's mother thought the same thing.

Our minds are wired to look for patterns in stories like this.  We look for signals that can help us either know how to prevent such an incident from happening to us or can help convince us that it couldn't happen to us.  The punch in the gut isn't from being caring or sensitive or weak or female.  It's the result of the realization, conscious or not, that the signals, rather than protect or reassure us, are telling us we can't prevent this at all.

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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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