When Surviving Childhood Means Killing Your Father

Melissa Jeltsen @ Huffington Post; Excerpt below:

Kathleen Heide, a professor at the University of South Florida who studies parricide, estimates there are only about 50 children under 18 who kill their parents each year in the U.S. Most of them are victims of severe child abuse and neglect, she said, and act out of pure desperation.

“These are kids who’ve endured years of abuse,” she said. “They’ve tried to get away. They may have attempted or thought about suicide, and they’ve enlisted the help of others, often to no avail.”

Bresha fits Heide’s profile to an unnerving degree, according to statements from her friends and family. She ran away from home more than once, the last time just two months before the shooting. She started cutting herself, a form of self-harm common among girls suffering from emotional distress. She told an aunt that she would rather kill herself than go back to living with her dad. Saquoya, her best friend, said Bresha felt trapped and alone.

Bresha shot Jonathan while he was asleep. That’s common, Heide said, explaining that children, usually smaller and weaker than adults, may believe it’s the only time they can fight back without risking their own lives. (Battered women who kill their abusers follow a similar pattern.)

But the law does not generally recognize such killings as self-defense, Heide said. In most cases, a person can only use deadly force in self-defense if they believe they are being threatened with imminent death or serious bodily harm. When children kill in nonconfrontational situations, she said, they are typically charged with murder or manslaughter, transferred to an adult court where they face stiff penalties, and spend decades behind bars.

“Even when the situation is marked by severe abuse, they rarely walk,” Heide said.

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