TW – Homicide, filicide, family violence
Elisa and Martin died along with their parents and their family dog this week. Their murder was pre-meditated with a complicated system of gas bottles filtering a lethal gas through their ceiling.
As a parent of three children, the news of their death has hit me hard. Elisa and Martin’s faces on my phone, computer and TV are heartbreakingly beautiful in a way that all children are. They look happy, their young lives with so much potential. Just like my own children.
Their lives were taken from them, probably by
one of their parents their father. An unconscionable act of filicide. As a mother who watches my darlings sleep at night, their little chests rising and falling as proof they are alive and well, I can not ever ever understand or condone a parent killing their child. Australians usually respond to filicide with an outpouring of grief at the loss of innocent lives. The media usually interview neighbours who talk of hearing them playing happily in their yard, and school teachers who speak of friendships lost. Extended family talk about Christmases, birthdays, and favourite toys.
We don’t know much about Elisa and Martin. Because they are autistic.
Despite the ability of crime reporters to trawl facebook, talk to neighbours, teachers, and extended family, Elisa and Martin are only known by the nature of their disability and the burden they allegedly were on their family.
“(She) used to tell me how hard it was on her and her husband having two kids who were deaf and dumb” – Manly Daily
“Distressed neighbours have spoken of the Colombian parents’ struggle with the children. Both 11-year-old Elisa and 10-year-old Martin were autistic.” – 7news
“But some believe the demands of raising two intellectually disabled children may have become too much for Ms Lutz — a dedicated volunteer and fundraiser — and her husband Fernando Manrique, whose children’s severe autism meant they were unable to speak.” – The Daily Telegraph
There are (at least) two problems with this narrative.
Firstly, it denies Elisa and Martin their humanity. As an autistic person myself, and parent of three autistic children, I know how important special interests are to autistic children. What did they love? What brought them joy? How did they communicate this joy? Who were their friends at school? What did they like to do at school? What did they want to be when they grow up?
They will never grow up. Their childhood and adulthood have been taken away. Yet all that commentators care for is describing the nature of their disabilities in a way which (let’s be frank here) is trying to tell people just how much of a burden they were: ‘severe’ ‘dumb’ ‘very high complex needs’. Describing autism in this way is completely offensive to disabled people, inluding nonspeaking autistic adults.
Secondly, when we deny Elisa and Martin their humanity, simplifying their lives to a one-dimensional label describing how much of a burden they were on their parents, we justify their murder. When we spend more time talking about how exceptional and devoted the parents were (when we know
at least one of them killed their children the father killed his children), we excuse their murder. When Autism organisations comment about how this is just an example of the pressures being faced by families with autistic children and use this to push for more carer supports, we explain away their murder.
“This horrible event, at least, highlights the significant difficulty many families who parent kids at the severe end of the spectrum go through,” Nicole Rogerson, Autism Awareness Australia, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald
This narrative from Autism Awareness Australia comes despite family friends indicating that the family had started the process of accessing increased support through NDIS and were excited about that.
Let’s be clear. As a parent with three children, who sometimes have high support needs, and who gets zero support from Disability Services, despite my best efforts to access support, Elisa and Martin’s death does not highlight my difficulties. It does not highlight my difficulties, because I am not going to murder my children.
Elisa and Martin’s death must not be used opportunistically to perpetuate this autism-as-burden narrative to advocate for more carer services.
What Australians need to start talking about, is that autistic children are being murdered and abused, and that we seem to think it is OK. It is never OK to take a child’s life. Filicide is abhorrent and should ALWAYS be treated as the despicable act that it is, whether the children are disabled or not.
25/10 – It is now very clear that the father acted alone in murdering his whole family in a carefully planned act of family homicide. At the time of writing very little information was available (other than a lot of information about how burdensome the children were!). I have edited this piece to reflect this information, keeping my original words for transparency.
I have also turned off comments on this post due to the angry responses I have received from people personally attacking me, defending perpetrators of violence, and also writing about vaccines and gut health (?!) Apologies to those who already commented.
– Please read this post by writer and activist Carly Findlay on the murder of Elisa and Martin and the media and community narrative in Australia, including a comparison with other murder-suicide cases.
– Michelle Sutton eloquently and powerfully speaks up about people sympathising with abusers and murderers, and shares previous writing on this topic in this post