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May die 2day," wrote 12-year-old Ramie Marie Grimmer on her Facebook page at 7:50 p.m. on Dec. 5 during a standoff between police and her mother in a welfare office in Laredo, Tex. Two days later the prediction she published using one of the office’s computers was realized. Shortly after that her younger brother, Timothy, also died. Both children were shot in the head by their own mother, who then turned the weapon on herself.

Living in a trailer park in one of the nation’s poorest counties, the family had been under considerable stress. Rachelle Grimmer begged for food at truck stops. She cooked the family’s meals over a campfire outside their trailer because she could not afford gas. Her children did not go to school, bathed outdoors with a garden hose and wore the same clothes day after day. According to neighbors, Rachelle Grimmer had been making her fourth visit—walking five miles, children in tow—to the Laredo social services office, seeking approval for food assistance. When that effort appeared on the verge of failure once again because of improper paperwork, she snapped, took several employees hostage with a .38 revolver and began the seven-hour standoff that would come to such a horrific conclusion.

No one will ever know what combination of crushing poverty, emotional exhaustion or mental illness drove this mother to this unnatural act. In the aftermath of this tragedy, procedures regarding how family aid is administered are under review in Texas and should perhaps be reviewed elsewhere around the country as well. Are public aid offices making it too hard for people, during this time of profound economic dislocation, to find the help they need? Have mental health services been cut too thin by government downsizing? How was it that this frustrated and disturbed woman was unable to get through the application process for food stamps but apparently had little trouble acquiring the handgun she used to kill her family?

One can only hope that institutional reassessments lead to procedural reforms that can prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. But the suffering and loss of these children, and others like them across the country, demand a broader examination of national conscience. More reports of such incomprehensible violence against children at the hands of their own parents and caregivers continued to make headlines in the weeks after Ramie Marie’s death. Are these distressing times driving some already disturbed parents to the breaking point?

There is reason to be concerned. New York police report that the number of child murder victims jumped from seven in 2009 to 24 in 2010. A limited study of 74 U.S. counties in four states conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh last year found a 65 percent increase between 2007 and 2009 in “shaken baby” cases and other brain injuries resulting from the physical abuse of children. Of the 422 cases tracked, 69 resulted in death.

A quick look at the national numbers of child injuries and mortality resulting from physical abuse (distinct from sexual abuse) or neglect should be a guide. If the numbers are going up dramatically, then it may be time to dispense with all the political prattle about balancing budgets and the proper role of government. If children are dying because government outreach, supervision and intervention programs meant to protect them are being reduced or eliminated, then the rhetorical disputes must end, and the programs must be restored.

Unfortunately the data that could provide a reliable indicator of such a crisis may not be readily available. A study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that children’s deaths from abuse or neglect may be dramatically underreported in the United States. According to the G.A.O., the 1,770 maltreatment deaths recorded by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System in 2009 represent a 50 to 60 percent undercount. Nearly half of the states that participated in the system include only data reported by child welfare agencies. But according to the G.A.O., “not all children who die from maltreatment have had contact with these agencies.”

Accurate figures on the problem of violence against children is only a starting point, but it will be difficult to justify restoring or salvaging critical intervention programs if the extent of the crisis is not known and demonstrable. It is of course criminal and repugnant that parents assault or neglect their children. But it is also shameful to allow a well-known social pathology to metastasize during a short-term economic downturn because the larger society prefers to continue ideological skirmishes rather than assume the responsibility to protect the innocent and defenseless. It is the least that is owed to Ramie Marie Grimmer, by all accounts a bright and likable child who had a whole, wonderful life ahead of her.

Comments

JOHN PELLEGRINO | 1/24/2012 - 9:24pm
Yet all of our Christain presidential candidates report earnings in the multimillions.  Why are we so worried that some one might survive without earring their way?  
6466379 | 1/24/2012 - 8:23am

Yes, I believe all the Christian Churches, specifically my Catholic Church for whom I am ready to die, is to be blamed for neglecting to protect our children. “Children” a  designation  that once included us and still does at the spiritual level,   brothers and sisters of Jesus, children of God. I’m not addressing directly the sexual abuse of children of recent bewildering memory. Abuse of the "child" i all of us is pandemic!


It’s also not my intention to offend anyone, but simply to focus on what I see as probable remote  cause, hoping that proximate solution may emerge. Equally important is my hope that this posting will not be seen as burdensomely simplistic!


With due respect, I’m reaching back to a much more remote cause for which the Catholic Church is responsible I mean its ecclesial failure to live faithfully the simplicity and truth of the Gospel, a deception that led to the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant Reformation intended as a holy deliverance, produced unintended results, splintering the interpretation of what constitutes moral absolutes and collapsing into  confusion the spinning moral compass of Christianity.  Certainly it wasn’t intended by the well-meaning, even saintly Reformers that, 40,000 different Protestant ecclesial communities in this Country alone, each claiming to be the authentic Church of Christ, would emerge from Luther’s (others) heroic action!


If  Christianity  spoke in unity about the indissolubility  of marriage, the innate integrity of its sanctity as a union between one man and one woman, the deceptions afloat in our world and our Country today, about marriage, could not happen. If respect for human life from the womb to the tomb was firmly supported by all Christians, there would not be the culture of death in which we live, wherein a Mother may legally destroy her unborn child abortively. Residual to this I suggest, there would  not be the horrific youth-suicide dilemma happening where subliminally young people, older folk too, get the message, “life is a disposable commodity” along with the 50,000 unborn babies put to death legally in this Country, since the 1973 Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision and hopelessly do themselves in! And so very much more!


It all began when that rooster crowed at Jesus’ trial sending the Church into tears of repentance. If those tears of repentance had been allowed to become fully effective as Christianity emerged, “chickens coming home to roost” would not be happening today. And that’s exactly what’s happening today – the chickens are coming home to roost in the “chicken coop” of a splintered Christianity!


The solution to this problem takes more than an Online posting. It’s complexity requires many heads working together in humble prayer and relentless ecumenical outreach, drawing resourceful sustenance from many reliable sources and motivated  in part by  the wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola who said, “WORK as if everything depended on self, PRAY as if everything depended on God!” In the final analysis there is no other way. May I repeat again, abuse of the "child" in all of us in pandemic!


 

ed gleason | 1/23/2012 - 6:08pm
Here is how my parish aids the disadvantaged.. What does your parish do?

http://thegubbioproject.org/video.html

Or is your parish church empty 6 days a week?
Des Farrell | 1/22/2012 - 6:37pm
All the policies and philosophies in the world doesn't change the reality that all it would have taken to keep this family alive would have been a simple helping hand. At the right moment it would have moved mountains. May God have mercy on their souls and on the consciences of those who could have done something and didn't. 
I've never been there but Texas seems a tough place to live in if you are poor or from south of the border.... Not their proudest moment. 
Michael Schlacter | 1/22/2012 - 8:38am
Same as the last issues article on pro-life.  We as a nation are not prolife.  We as proclaimed christian congergations are not pro-life.  We are not practicing much "christian" at all.  Pockets yes, preaching yes, action...requires much up hill struggle in all facets when reaching out to help the unwanted of our society.  We need to vote and spend and work for the lessor in our society.  One day we all will be one...ranging from an aborted child to a neglected mentally challenged person to an old aging person...all are being treated the same. Rejected.
I recall a statement from early Catholice Elementray School from one of those sisters...The greatness of a society is judged by it's care of its weaker members.
C Walter Mattingly | 1/22/2012 - 7:59am
Yes, really,Sue.
While we lack the background information on this particular tragedy, as a type, we clearly can identify the most salient factor. This from a recent report of the APA (American Psychological Association): "Poverty has the strongest correlation with high (school) dropout rates...."  It is anything but "irrelevant." Among those factors you cite, the first, for good reason, is poverty. Since the factor with the strongest correlation to poverty is failure to graduate from high school, there is no better starting point.
Simply put, morality involves knowing the greater good and doing it by developing the discipline of delayed gratification. For the student, to get up and go to school on time, to do homework instead of hanging out on the corner or playing video games, to listen in class to the teacher rather than what music is playing through his headphones, all acts of delayed gratification, rejecting the immediate lesser good for the greater good of an education. This discipline will carry on into the future adult's family and economic life, or, if missing, won't. The difference in outcomes is commonly the difference between poverty and self-sufficiency, between a broken home and life and a functional, satisfying one. 
You needn't convince me of the massive government failures in the areas of public education or other government services. The immense expenditures we have made per student and our 3rd quartile performance in education is sufficient evidence. I'm sure social services may perform no better than Amtrack, the postal service's current bankruptcy situation, or other government services not subject to the discipline of competition. That is why I strongly advocate introducing the competition that vouchers will provide. I gave the numbers of the Loyola study in LA; in the inner city neighborhood where I was business partner to the schools, the local parochial school students went on to graduate at an 87% rate; the nearby public middle school, a 57% rate. And it's been that way for decades despite all sorts of money and classroom size reductions. None of this may have prevented the social services failure this article documents, but no answer is as good as preventing the situation from occuring in the first instance.
The real payoff, I believe, is to force those unions which really control the overall agenda of early public education to use the great resources they have received (as compared to other nations) to stop concentrating on avoiding accountability, forcing the retention of poor teachers, and providing the fewest hours and days of instruction of any OECD nation, and to begin giving priority to teaching the students. Given the sorry history of high expenditures and low performance, this will ony occur if the NEA risks losing the dues monies that have filled their coffers. Genuine competition has that potential. And such tragedies as the mother of this sad article will be reduced, along with the poverty rate.
SUZANNE WALSH | 1/21/2012 - 2:55pm
Morality, really, Walter? It is a giant leap to presume that this mother would have done something differently if she had received "moral instruction" and had graduated from high school. We don't know what schools she attended and whether or not she graduated. These are irrelevant points. Poverty, mental illness, hunger and desperation cross all religious, ethnic and social barriers. Did this mother's neighbors not see the desperation of this family? Did the school district fail to investigate why these childfren were not in school? Did the social workers not grasp this mother's desperation? Could the social workers have suggested a food bank, a call to a church for help for this family, or, even better, ASSISTED THIS MOTHER IN FILLING OUT THE PAPERWORK CORRECTLY THE FIRST TIME SHE WAS TURNED DOWN? There is no excuse for what happened in Laredo. How do we ensure that it doesn't happen again? Can we who are members of a church community, park ourselves outside the welfare offices and the county hospitals of our country and reach out a hand to the desperate and disenfranchised?  If we don't, who will?
C Walter Mattingly | 1/21/2012 - 5:36am
What do we expect, really? The only place other than the family (church is a parental decision initially) where this mother and child could obtain moral instruction is the schools, and; unlike almost all other western nations, we have, foolishly and self-destructively, outlawed providing religious instruction in the public school system. We thereby deprive this young mother and her children of learning a sense of morality as well as of a personal destiny. Thereby the tragic end of this poor mother is greatly enhanced. This is but one particularly poignant result of those most likely to have all sorts of social and economic troubles, the group that does not graduate from high school. A recent Loyola Marymount study concluded that whereas 30+ percent of inner city LA public school students fail to graduate from high school, that number at the similarly located parochial schools is 2%.  If we truly want to have a major impact on the tragedy this mother represents, nothing would do more good than extending the opportunity of a voucher to enable this mother and her children to escape such a fate, such a high possibility of failure. And it is the only one that will not cost the currently unsustainable entitlement system more money that it doesn't have.
NORMA NUNAG | 1/20/2012 - 10:02pm
#1 Harold, I would go even further...it's the failure of all of us christians!
Mike Evans | 1/20/2012 - 8:56pm
Under the guise of budget cutting, the GOP and the Dems have strategically cut the safety net into huge holes. Not only do children suffer unconscionably, but programs for the most desperate folk, especially those with mental illness, have been cut through the bone. We still seem to find a way to spend $660 billion on military toys and saber rattling but cannot seem to afford even small change for those who are in desperate need. The Lord hears the cry of the poor, John. It is not just the job of the churches; everyone in our society is responsible for the welfare of their neighbor.
Des Farrell | 1/20/2012 - 4:02pm
This week I found a youngish Latvian man living in a field near Dublin airport. He hadn't eaten in 3 days. I've never met someone so close to a mental breakdown, he couldn't stop crying. Neither the airport police who had thrown him off the airport property, the ordinary city police, his own embassy people who he had walked 10 miles to find nor anyone else had told him of the numerous Christian charities in town where he could at least eat.
There are protocols that each of these groups should have followed and they ignored them. They wouldn't have even had to put their own hand into their pocket. In January, without a blanket, this man should have died. Each group and the media would have blamed everyone else and a lot of well paid hand wringing and fake soul searching would have gone on.
The truth seems to be that extreme poverty, like mental illness, seems contagious to many. All we can do is push social teachings as written down exactly in the gospels. That's all, as many like Peter McVerry sj and many thousands of others here in ireland do every day. 
Everyday I think about what would happen if a perfect storm of financial collapse and an oil war in the middle east destroyed our society. It's at those times I think of the Franciscans and so many others who do so much great work and that calms me down.
As for the Latvian, he's at home and the snazzy little weekend away in Spain I had planned for my fortieth birthday next month is on hold. It seems the price of a clean bourgeois conscience can be bought! (sometimes)
All it takes for the Roman Catholic Church to reclaim their moral presence in Ireland is for the bishops to take off the mitres and get their hands dirty, like good fishermen. We have a great archbishop here called Diarmuid Martin. I hope, for the sake of the 2012 Eucharistic Congress, he is listened to, finally. 
If you want to edit my email down I suppose it can be put as this; if Compassion is taught to be a personal moral weakness and not the greatest of personality strengths, as the Nazis did to take an extreme example, then that civilization is busted.
2771213 | 1/20/2012 - 3:24pm

You assume that more spending on welfare-like programs will change this problem.  I my experience the problem is narcissistic personality and the secular view of ethics that parents and particularly "boyfriends" assume and accept as reality.  The programs you advocate will never substitute for the command to love each other.  This mother needed the people of a church who made her a part of their lives.  I think the welfare programs make thing worse because people see them as a solution and see their voting for these policies as significantly contributing to their obligation to take care of the fragile members of our communities.  This was not a state welfare failure it was a failure of the Christian churches.

John Lay | 1/20/2012 - 3:19pm
AMEN

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