When Parents Kill Children

On Jan. 27, Julie Powers, 50, a mother of two in Tampa, drove her 13-year-old son, Beau, home from soccer practice and allegedly shot him in the head “for talking back” to her. Then she went upstairs and shot Calyx, her 16-year-old daughter dead as she sat at her computer doing her homework, according to an arrest affidavit. At the time, her husband was serving in Qatar as an army colonel. Powers said her kids were “mouthy.”

This is an unusual situation, because typically, it is younger children who are more likely to be killed. And usually, if a child is killed for being “mouthy” it is the result of a parent losing their temper, being aggressive, and throwing a child against a wall.

Killing newborns is much more common than killing older children.

As far as death by homicide goes, you’re more likely to be killed on the day you are born than on any other day of your life.

Younger children are much more likely to be killed than teenagers. If a child is killed for being “mouthy,” the remark that came out here, that’s more likely to lead to fatal battering. [Usually, in such cases,] a 3-to-5-year-old is thrown against a wall in an overzealous attempt at discipline and dies — as opposed to [a parent] planning to kill and shooting them with a gun.

Typically, circumstances in which parents kill their children include:

“ALTRUISM”:  When a mother plans to take her own life and believes her children are better off in heaven with her.

PSYCHOSIS:  The parent is acutely psychotic.

FATAL BATTERING: [as described above].

UNWANTED:  such as when a mother has  an infant born out of wedlock.

SPOUSAL REVENGE: a parent kills the children to hurt the partner, typically after infidelity or a separation

The case in Florida doesn’t appear to fit into any of these categories, based on the information we currently have. It is likely that there is more to the case than that the children were merely being mouthy.

When parents kill their children, the methodology may depend on the child. Age is one factor: a  3-year-old can be easily strangled or overdosed. Teens are not going to cooperate in being killed so the use of a knife or gun is more necessary. In some cases of fathers who kill teenagers there has been a real standoff and hostility, but that’s not typical for mothers.

Fathers are more likely to murder the whole family. In 95% of those cases in which whole families are killed, the fathers are the killer.

Is there any way to prevent these types of crimes?

There is no easy answer to intervening here. Better access to mental health care may be helpful.

Awareness; a woman who is very depressed and has young children who makes a suicide attempt has a 1-in-20 chance that she will try to take the kid with her. Specific inquiries about thoughts of harm toward children should occur in any evaluation of a seriously depressed mother.

What happens to parents who kill their children?

Most parents who kill their children go to prison rather than mental institutions. According to the FBI, women who kill their children and are not found insane, serve a mean length 17 years in prison. In women who kill newborns, the mean length is 9 years. Of all homicide perpetrators, none have a higher incidence of being found insane than mothers who kill their children.

Mothers who commit infanticide

They are not a general danger to the community. There are infanticide laws in 22 countries, including England, Canada and Australia — instead of women being charged with murder, mothers who kill children that are less than 1 year old are charged with infanticide. In the U.K., the vast majority get probation rather than prison. The recidivism rate is very low. The risk of suicide is substantial, however.