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

12 thoughts on “When autistic children are murdered

  1. The comments here that sympathise with the adult perpetrator in this filicide here are deeply offensive and concerning. Not only were two children murdered but our community response has been ableist and colluding of the narrative that disabled people are a burden and deserve to have their human rights violated. If anyone should be taking a hard look at themselves it is our community and how we treat our disabled members.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this. Like many of my friends, I am hurt and angry at the way the media and Autism Awareness Australia are framing this murder. We are not burdens. An act of family violence like this is not a time to be focusing on the need for more supports for families. It is a time to grieve and to rally for the rights of our community.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The idea that autistic folk are a burden, *just because they are autistic” is laughable to me. One of my partners is a computer system architect, highly successful; and the other is an electrical engineer, also very successful.

    Both have raised 2 children each. They have successful relationships.

    So, @Ann – THIS offends me greatly . . .
    “Have some compassion! What must they have been going through to do this ! The use of ‘allegedly’ in relation to the burden they were to their parents is offensive. Walk a mile in someone’s shoes !”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As usual the reporting on the murder of autistic children is appalling. There were NOT 5 victims here because this was planned and executed by an adult. It is never acceptable to link service provision with murder. The criminal who did this had options other than ending valuable lives. I can’t believe we still have to say this.
    I judge the hell out of whoever did this.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. To everyone who has said give them a break show some compassion oh those poor parents…. If for one second you think that just because their life was difficult it makes it okay to murder their children then you are wrong. Drop your children in front of a police station, hospital or family friends house.. Then go and take your life if that is what you’re planning on doing. These children will never grow up because their parents denied it from them. I’m not saying they deserved no sympathy, they did but then they choose to do the unthinkable and murder 2 of their own children. It is sick and disgusting and as a mother I will never comprehend how it gets to this point… All I can say is those poor poor kids. So completely heartbreaking and unfair. These children deserved to be remembered for who they were not remembered as 2 autistic kids.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Goodness thank you for posting this. I have been sighing in reading the media reports this week, illustrating perfect parents who were trying their best, and I even saw someone write “they are all in peace together now.” This takes away from the real issue of family violence and the crime that took place.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I do think associating the children’s autism with the assumption that that was the cause of the murders is reprehensible it places a very negative light upon Autism IN a way it serves to ” excuse” the action.. As you say this was an act of family violence and that should have been the main emphasis.

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