WHEN GOOD KIDS KILL by Michael D. Kelleher


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Here’s a report that could be a handbook for programmers of afternoon talk shows: “Teens Who Murder Their Parents,” “Mothers Who Kill Their Newborns.” Kelleher has written much on violence (Murder Most Rare, not reviewed, etc.) and consults for public and private organizations on threat assessment. Here he sets out to examine the backgrounds of young people from stable and supportive families who, with no warning, put bullets through their parents’ heads or slaughter a best friend. By knowing more about those savage acts, we can head off increased violence from the baby boomlet now heading into its teens, Kelleher theorizes. He then proceeds to lay out case history after case history of “neonaticides” (babies killed at birth by their usually teenage mothers), parricides (children who kill their parents), cult killers, and thrill killers, each crime seemingly bloodier than the one before. The executioners are often, but not always, older teens; usually, but not exclusively, boys; and frequently examples in the community: altar boys, honor students, star athletes, without a blemish on their records. Why do these children burst loose in a flood of rage that lets them gun down a friend or a playground full of school mates? They cannot explain it themselves, except in the most prosaic terms: “ . . . tired of doing the household chores,” said one, typically. It is difficult, if not impossible to distinguish these teens’ protests against parental rules from the normal adolescent resistance to curfews and family strictures. Kelleher agrees, “We do not understand why . . . ,” offering finally some uncertain psychological speculation, advice to parents to love and listen to their children (although many of the parents described here seemed to do just that), and some discussion of the increasingly tough laws mandating that children who commit violent crimes be tried as adults. Voyeurism takes the reins over insight into “good kids” who murder; sadly, we are no better off than when we began in understanding the “why.”

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-275-96410-8
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Praeger
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1998