Mother’s Murder of Daughter Shows Need for Shared Parenting

January 3, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Casa Grande, Arizona mother Connie Villa has been arrested and charged with murder in the suffocation death of her 13-year-old daughter Aniarael.  She’s also been charged with the attempted murder of her ex-husband, Adam Villa and their three younger children.  Read about it here (CNN, 12/31/13).

Connie Villa reportedly told investigators she wanted to kill her children and ex-husband because she did not want him to have custody of them.

On December 30, a 9-1-1 operator received a call from Adam Villa saying that he was driving himself to the emergency room after having been stabbed repeatedly by his ex-wife.  She had lured him to her home and attacked him.  She had also forced her children to ingest some form of opiate medication in an attempt to kill them.  The oldest, Aniarael, refused to take the medication, so Connie Villa suffocated the girl.  Villa then turned the knife on herself in an unsuccessful attempt at suicide.

Police say Villa has admitted to killing Anirael.

Connie Villa reportedly told investigators she wanted to kill her children and ex-husband because she did not want him to have custody of them.

The surviving children have been placed with Adam’s parents while he recuperates from his injuries.

Sadly, this case appears to be yet another example of parental killing of children they fear will be lost to them in family court.  Horribly, tragically that is not an uncommon occurrence.  Just last week, a Ukrainian father threw his three-year-old son off a tall building in New York before jumping to his death.  Again, the motive seems to have been fear of losing his son in child custody proceedings.

Beyond the horrific facts of each case of filicide there appears to be a deeper message that’s often lost in the tragedy itself.  When we read about these cases, I think we should pause to take note of the power of the connection of parents to children and just how important the role of parent is to the adult.  After all, the act of taking a child’s life is usually beyond imagining for most people.  So how is it that a parent, who presumably loves the child more than anyone else, could possibly intentionally take its life?

I believe the answer lies first in the biological bond between parents and children.  Both fathers and mothers are likely to bond with their children at the most elemental level – the biological.  The hormones that cause mammals of every kind to care for their offspring of course do so in humans.  They are the things that move adults of all mammal species to act against their own individual interests and provide food and protection for immature offspring.  As such, they constitute among the most powerful and profound influences on mammalian behavior, humans included.

So the prospect of losing a child touches on motivations that are as important as the survival of the species itself. 

But obviously, the deep biological urge to nurture and protect offspring can’t alone explain the urge to take that very life.  It only explains the connection to that offspring.  What I believe does that is a parent’s equally powerful identification with the role of parent.  Once those biological ties are established, the adult becomes first, foremost and always a parent.  He/she identifies with that role above all others.  In extreme cases, that role can become coterminous with both the life of the adult and that of the child.  The role subsumes the very being of the adult.

In that way, the parent comes to see the loss of the role of parent as fatal.  Such an adult literally cannot imagine life outside the role of parent, cannot imagine such an identity.  Therefore, to lose the role is to lose life itself and that requires the death of the child who is equally connected to the parent.

Such at any rate is a rough sketch of my efforts to stand in the shoes of parents who kill their children and then take their own lives.  I readily admit it’s not an easy thing to do.  On the most basic level, I just don’t understand it.

But what I do know is that it happens far too frequently for us to ignore.  As we know, the suicide rate for fathers spikes following divorce and their assignment of the role of visitor in the lives of their children.  And so it was – or almost was – with Connie Villa.  Faced with the loss of her children to her ex-husband, she did the most extreme thing anyone can do; she murdered her child.  She also tried to murder the others and herself.

Allow me to make the point that, in addition to all the others, that’s a powerful argument for shared parenting post-divorce.  It’s true that vast numbers of parents go through divorce and child custody cases without killing anyone or attempting to.  But the all-too-frequent murder of children and the suicide of parents demand that we see child custody cases for what they are – the loss of the children by one parent, almost invariably the father.  In some cases, that loss is so devastating for the adult it results in tragedy.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  No fit parent need lose a child to divorce, but state laws essentially require that they do.  Across the nation and around the world, state laws on child custody mandate that family judges look at the parents and decide who is the one with which to place the child the overwhelming majority of the time.  As I’ve detailed before, that often results in utterly absurd exercises in nitpicking.  In Scott Ritchie’s case, for example, he was denied custody of his son whom he’d raised as a stay-at-home dad since birth because, as the judge ruled, he was too invested in his parental role.

Imagine that as a reason to prevent a father from seeing his son for all but about 14% of the time!  (In Ritchie’s case, he actually sees him far less due to his ex’s traveling from job to job, state to state.)  He’s too good a dad, too caring, too involved! 

When faced with the legal requirement that one parent have the child the majority of the time and the other shoved aside, it’s inevitable that judges make decisions on bases as silly and destructive as that.  It’s literally a requirement of many state laws that one parent lose the child in a divorce, that he become all but a stranger to the child.  As surveys of the children of divorce show, the kids don’t want that and neither do most parents, but he law’s the law.

The idea of equally shared parenting is that no child should lose a parent just because the parents can no longer live together in harmony.  But into the bargain, if both parents knew that divorce wouldn’t cause the loss of a child, there would surely be far fewer Connie Villa’s to read about.  Again, parents are invested in parenthood at a level that’s as deep and powerful as possible in the human psyche.  When they lose that role, that identity, all too often, bad things happen.

Fix the system so that no fit parent is forced into the role of outsider and there will be far fewer headlines screaming about the murder of children and the suicide of a parent.

National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.


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