Most people will agree with the coroner who heard the inquest into the deaths of a Donegal woman, Catriona Innes and her seven year old daughter Caitlin.
Ms Innes smothered the little girl and then hanged herself last year. Coroner Sean Cannon said that to take the life of a child was “beyond human reason”. We will never know the demons in her mind which drove her to take her child’s life and then her own and most of us cannot begin to conceive any circumstances in which we could even contemplate such an action.
Sadly, however, such tragedies are not uncommon. In Hampshire at the weekend a man killed his children aged one and three and then himself, after splitting up from the children’s mother. David Cass even telephoned the mother to tell her of the children’s deaths before taking his own life. In his deranged state he was obviously determined to cause the mother the maximum amount of hurt and used the children to that end. It was an act of unspeakable
cruelty and hatred. In Finland yesterday a student killed 10 others in a shooting rampage at a college. It was reminiscent of the massacre of 16 young children and an adult at Dunblane primary school in Scotland in 1996. Again children or young people were deliberately chosen as the targets for maximum impact. There have been a number of multiple shooting incidents in American colleges and there is undoubtedly a copy-cat element to such attacks.
The only common denominator in the attacks listed above is the taking of young people’s lives in the most wanton and deliberate manner. Some of the
children were with people, a parent, they had every reason to trust implicitly. Children, especially very young children, have absolute, unconditional love for their parents and that is what makes incidents like those involving Catriona Innes or David Cass so horrifying. For an adult to use the children as instruments of revenge or just to take their lives because they feel their own is no longer worth living is beyond the comprehension of most people. Indeed most people would find it difficult to think of circumstances in which they would take their own lives, never mind those of a trusting child.
Sometimes there are warning signs. In 2005 a Londonderry woman took her own life after killing her daughter. She had threatened that action before and was undergoing treatment for mental problems. In that instance a breakdown in communication between health professionals contributed to the tragedy. No-one told her estranged husband or gave him the opportunity to protect his daughter.
While most homicides are carried out by men, both men and women appear equally likely to snap and take their children’s lives. Every case needs to be examined thoroughly to ensure that no early warning signals were missed or to see if there are common traits in those who kill children. Perhaps we are simply more aware of the problem because global communications are now so swift and all-encompassing or perhaps there are more incidents of this nature. Whatever the causes, the deaths of children at the hands of people they instinctively trust and love are tragedies beyond the comprehension of most.