As I was considering some of the recent mass murders, I was realizing that not all are the same. In a few, I noticed a dynamic where there was a particular level of rage against the mother. I also seemed to remember, in those cases, there were some Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) “red flags” that may not have been picked up by the media. I recalled that the Umpqua Shootings and Sandy Hook may have had some evidence pointing to MSbP, so I did some research. This is the first of a series of three blog posts on the subject.
In The New York Times article “Oregon Killer’s Mother Wrote of Troubled Son and Gun Rights,” we see a family dynamic that fits a pattern often associated with MSbP moms.
Mom, A Nurse, Knew Better Than Doctors
For the ten years leading up to the Oregon massacre carried out by her son, Ms. Harper, wrote often in online forums about her autism expertise. She claimed to have developed this expertise not only by being the parent of a child with Aspberger’s; she wrote that she had Aspberger’s herself, but that she dealt with it on her own.
It is tragic in hindsight after the massacre that resulted that online she boasted that in handling Aspberger’s one her own this way, “I didn’t do so bad.” Her son’s victims’ families may beg to differ.
Red flags of factitious illness disorder, the clinical term for Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, can be distinguished by medical professionals.
Mom Isolated From Family
Ms. Mercer had had her son after being married to his father for only eleven months, and had moved with her son to Oregon two years before her son committed the massacre there. Her son hadn’t seen his father since. Unchecked, by doctors or any other family members, then, Ms. Harper was free to delude herself as to her son’s actual condition, telling others online that he was on his way to a career in making movies.
This distance is not uncommon behavior among MSbP partner fathers.
Mom’s Thinking Polarized
In The New York Times article, she displays polarized black and white thinking concerning her son’s condition, defensively stating he as “no babbling idiot,” as if that were the claim of doctors she prevented from giving him treatment. Her claim in the article concerning his abilities went to the opposite extreme, saying “now my son invests in the stock market along with me, turns a profit, and is working on a degree in finance. His language and reading skills are phenomenal.”
This situation, where the mother treats her child in a manner inappropriate to the child’s age is also a symptom of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, as well as child abuse in general.
Mom’s View Contradicted By Evidence
However, neighbors in their apartment building describe her son as being barely functional. According to The New York Times report, to them he was someone who didn’t have a job and who only left the house to get the mail or walk down the street to buy a soda.
The Los Angeles Times indicates that the U.S. Army corroborated the neighbors’ view after refusing entry to the son into the Army. They stated that her son was dismissed from serving in the military because he couldn’t meet its most basic administrative standards.
Mom May Have Tried To Make Her Son In Her Own Image
The New York Times report states that her online writings “also indicated that her son, who lived with her, was well versed in guns, saying he ‘has much knowledge in this field.’” But she may have needed mental health assistance in her day to day functioning herself. The Los Angeles Times reports that she had diputes with neighbors over noise, and petitioned her apartment building’s owner to eradicate what she thought was a cockroach infestation that kept her son, who she called “baby,” awake at night.
All of this evidence points to a patten that raises the question we often pose here at the Proxy Project concerning MSbP: when the caretaker needs care, who can intervene to head off a public health disaster? Where were the opportunities that were lost?
In my next post in the series, I will do a similar analysis of the Sandy Hook.
Wonder why anti-social personality disorder can lead to a person becoming a seriel killer?
Read about it here.