The Associated Press reported this morning that a Melbourne, Australia man was accused of throwing his four-year old daughter to her death off a 190 foot (58 meter) eight-lane freeway bridge over the Yarra river in Melbourne. In a moment that can only be described as sheer insanity the man apparently unexpectedly stopped his SUV on the West Gate Bridge shortly after 9:00 am in the middle of rush hour. Stunned commuters phoned police to report seeing the man drop his child off the bridge. The police pulled the child from the river about ten minutes later, nearly dead. She was rushed to a nearby hospital where she died approximately four hours later.
The man had just spent the previous two days in an Australian family court where the issue of custody of the girl and her two brothers (who are speculated to have been sitting in the SUV while their sister was being murdered) was being determined. Interestingly, Australian court officials reported that the hearing ended on Wednesday without a ruling because the parties had come to an agreement to share access to the children. The father was apprehended about one hour later sitting in the SUV with his two surviving sons in front of the family court building.
We have observed and discussed before in this forum the potential for insanity and tragedy that may arise in custody litigation, and this recent case underscores the stresses involved in custody litigation and the tragic consequences that often befall these innocent victims. This comes on the heels of the tragedy in Wilmington, California where a recently unemployed man killed his wife and five children and then himself in an apparent murder-suicide, as well as the discovery this morning in Columbus, Ohio of a family of four who were killed in what appeared to be a murder-suicide (the children were 8 and 5 years old).
Clearly we are unable to predict with absolute accuracy these kinds of tragedies, but there are indeed warning signs, if we will only look for and pay attention to them. Too often people who suffer these horrific lapses in sanity are described by their friends and neighbors as “decent and quiet folks,” “good neighbors” and “good parents,” when obviously they are enduring horrific suffering. It is time for us all to engage our friends and neighbors, befriend them and interact with them and be willing and courageous enough to discuss their problems and our own with them and our extended network of friends so we can see the warning signs and offer assistance. For too long society has shrouded mental illness and emotional lapses in a cloak of secrecy and shame so opaque and impenetrable that those who so desperately need help are either too uninformed or too afraid to seek it out.
How many more innocent victims will it take before a strong and effective mental health outreach program can take hold in this society? There is much talk these days of the need for a “grass roots” movement to improve America and its economy, and I applaud that effort. Let us now do the same to address the mental and emotional crisis that is so obviously upon us.