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.


Colleen said...

Your 12 year old would call you at work, getting permission before letting an unexpected visitor in. Mine? Not so sure about him remembering that one.

I busted a friend's 12 year old, years ago, when I called and he told me she wasn't home. First he was lectured, then I was added to the "ok to tell" list! Boggles the mind, though, that boy is getting married this year....

Anna Mitchell said...

First off, this story punched me hard in the gut also. I have three little boys, the oldest being 9 and I think all the time about what I will do when he wants to stay home alone when he is 12. I did when I was his age, but it was different times I suppose.
Second, his mother is not like you, me or the other poster. If you read into this story further, his mother is not blameless. I cannot find anything about him before age 6, but from 6 to 11 he lived in MO with his uncle. Then he moved with his grandmother. He was with her until November when he said his only Christmas wish was to live with his mother. That wish was granted. Within the month, he was dead. This lady will now play the victim and her sons' death will surely give her ammunition to continue being a loser. I pray that she has no more children. As it turns out the murderer was Mothers new roommates ex lesbian lover trying to invoke revenge on the ex lover yet saying that she didnt do it, and there are drugs n such involved. Its the same old story and I am tired of it. Son UNCONDITIONALLY loves mother that has treated him like crap his whole life. Mother is never put out. Never. And son/daughter/child hurts and pays for mom being a loser. This punched you in the gut. And me. Probably more than his mother.

Naomi Zikmund-Fisher said...

Anna, you have hit upon something that is often true -- these things don't happen in isolation. Very often the "backstory" shows that things weren't so rosy in families where tragedy strikes before the traumatic incident.

At the same time, I do have some compassion for this mom. I don't know her or her whole story, aside from what is in the press. Anyone who has been covered in the press will tell you that you rarely if ever get a well rounded view of the situation from what they choose to report. Did she make mistakes? I'm sure she did, and it sounds like some of them were pretty big and obvious.

At the same time, we don't punish people for their mistakes by killing their children. I seriously doubt that anything she did made anyone think this was going to happen. Other parents do things just as bad and worse all the time and nothing happens. That doesn't excuse it, it just says that no one deserves to have their child murdered, just as this child certainly didn't deserve to be murdered.

As for the relationship between the killer and the roommate, domestic violence and stalking are a problem in all segments of our community. I can't blame a wife for her husband's violence and I can't blame the roommate that her ex-girlfriend turned out to be a psycho. I'm sure she feels guilty enough as it is.

Karen K Ortiz said...

One thing that can be done is a secret code word shared by you and your child. The child is not to open the door or go with anyone unless they know the secret code.

I am new to this blog and not sure if I can put website info on here. If not please forgive me and remove the rest of the information.

The secret code word is one of the Seven Safety Rules published by Child Shield USA. Child Shield has a program to help prevent missing children and help recover children on the program if they do become missing. Recovery efforts start immediately regardless of whether an Amber Alert has been issued.

There is cost involved, but we also offer membership into a free National Child Watch Team. If anyone wants more info, the website is

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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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