Another woman in our community has committed the kind of act that provokes particular outrage and disbelief. Self-destructive, and she decided to take her child with her.
Armed with a knife, a 38-year-old Concord woman slashed and wounded her 10-year-old daughter in a sudden attack Tuesday morning. The woman, Xuan Liu, then killed herself in what police are describing as an attempted murder-suicide
Liu had woken her daughter up and attacked her. The girl struggled with her mother and was able to break free. Officers found Liu in a bedroom, and she was pronounced dead at the scene, dead of a self-inflicted knife wound. . The girl was able to call 911, and then was taken to the hospital where she was in serious but stable condition Wednesday. No one else was in the house at the time, and police are still investigating to find out what prompted the attack and the suicide.
I’ve written about this topic before: mothers who kill their own children. It's not a pleasant thing to write about or to contemplate--especially when you try to imagine what the kids are suffering, and not just during the attack but in all the time leading up to it. Are they living in constant fear of their parent? Do they see their parent act out?
Last summer, there was the killing of Adam Williams, a 16-year-old Walnut Creek boy who was entering his junior year at Las Lomas High. His mother Judith, a professional, seemingly happy woman, told her son she wanted to go on a drive up Mt. Diablo on a Friday evening. At a picnic area near the top of the mountain, Judith Williams, armed with a .357-caliber revolver, opened fire on her own son. She shot him first on the chest. After he fell to his knees, she put the gun to his head and fired again. Then she turned the gun on herself.
Judith Williams' ex-husband described her as "angry" and suggested she was upset that he had moved back to Northern California and might want to spend more time with Adam.
As an editor for Diablo magazine, I dissected one case in particular, a 2003 murder-suicide in San Ramon, in which Maegan Mundi, a smart, successful tech professional and seemingly devoted mother killed her three year old daughter, Galadriel, then killed herself.
There had been other local cases since, and these sorts of cases cross class, race and geographic boundaries.
Before Judith Williams killed her son Adam, there was Mary Alicia Driscoll. She was a single mother who happened to live in the same Walnut Creek neighborhood as Judith and Adam Williams. In June 2005, Driscoll drove to a remote country road in Sonoma County and fatally shot her five-year-old daughter and herself. Three months later in 20005, a homeless Oakland mother who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia admitted to police that she threw her three little boys into San Francisco Bay.
Yes, there are fathers who kill, fathers who take out their entire families, including their wives, before ending their own lives. As a whole, fathers are a lot deadlier. The thing is, we tend to consider these killings committed by women to be more shocking, and not just because we don’t usually associate women with violent crime. These killings, I wrote "challenge society’s model of nurturing, self-sacrificing motherhood.”
I continued: “We’re tempted to quickly classify the mothers as inherently crazy or cruelly self-centered, but there are often complex factors underlying these crimes, including marital breakdown, financial stress, and under-treated mental illness, including postpartum depression. Experts say it is important to look at these factors in order to try to understand the evolution of these crimes and gain a chance to prevent future tragedies.”
Phillip Resnick, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland who testified on behalf of Andrea Yates, was one of a number of experts I interviewed for the story. He says that in many such cases, the mothers are suicidally depressed and view their children as "extensions" of themselves, worrying that the children can’t survive without them.
He said this is one explanation for the San Ramon mom’s decision to murder her daughter. "Once she decided to die," he told me, "she thought her daughter was better off with her." Then there are rare instances, Resnick said, of mothers “who, Medea-like, kill their children out of revenge. They want to get even with boyfriends or husbands who they believe have wronged them.”
In Mundi’s case, the only motive police publicly ascribed to the deaths was a custody dispute between Mundi and her ex-husband, Galadriel’s father. Although Mundi’s friends and relatives were well aware of her complaints against her ex-husband, they believe that there more to the loss of Mundi and Galadriel than just a custody dispute.
Their stories provided a picture of a woman who may have suffered from an undiagnosed, untreated mental illness. Her writings and accounts by her loved ones show she was given to mood swings, rigid, obsessive, grandiose, paranoid thinking and a fractured sense of self. At the same time, friends and relatives also remember how she could be “normal,” a good friend, a warm, intelligent companion and a loving mother.
In hindsight, they realized that she offered plenty of warning signs. She even talked about suicide, but like a lot of people in their position, they never imaged that she would ever take things so far. They certainly never imagined she would hurt the daughter she so much wanted and loved.
We don't know what happened in the Concord case, whether Liu had a mental illness, or whether there were other things going on in her life that made her think her daughter needed to die.
But the experts I interviewed for the Diablo story all said that one key to understanding why these crimes happen is to look at the suicidal behavior of the parent. The destructive drive behind most of parent-child murder-suicides is self-destructive. The mother, or the father, wants to die. Unfortunately, they also get into a mindset in which they believe they need to take the best part of them--their children--with them.