By Teresa G. D’vall
While the country heaves a collective sigh of grief over this week’s tragedy in Florida, know this:
School shooters are created over a lifetime, not in a single instance.
As a survivor of domestic violence and Mom of six I warn you, with dreadful certainty, that one of my kids may end up killing yours because violence in the home gives impetus to apathy; and is contagious.
I have been trying to get counseling for my aggressive children since August of 2017 and have encountered one roadblock after another. The reason why should incite you.
An article by CNN describing the Florida shooter’s history of violence as a youth and failed attempts to get help infuriated me today.
I currently have an active, permanent order of protection against my ex husband. There is a clear and present history of violence in our home. Still, the schools, police, and NY State Child Protective Services are failing my family too.
Followers of my blog may recall reading “How I Almost Became A Convicted Felon” the story of how I escaped my abusive marriage. That piece focused on the difficulty of leaving and the battles I overcame to do so. Nearly FIVE years later, we are still struggling in aftermath. Despite efforts to convey the gravity of my circumstances; our newly assigned judge has done more to hinder than help.
I filed four pro se motions in 2017 and four orders to show cause; requests for emergent assistance. All were denied, almost in their entirety.
The only victory I achieved was after my second motion in April, The judge agreed to prohibit my ex from bringing the children to the station when he filed police reports. I hold the dubious distinction in the town of Warwick for most domestic incident reports. There was a point during the summer when the police were literally at my house every week, sent there by my ex husband. It is not unusual for an officer to stop me as I attempt to explain and say:
“I already know this story.”
Each time I interact with the Warwick, NY police I am told there’s nothing they can do. After almost 40 calls in 2017 alone, only three police officers offered any type of help or hope. Officer Serviss offered to speak to my son & did. Officer Pascal spoke to both of my sons and told me about the PINS program that helps youth in peril. Officer Kearns listened to me & gave me hope.
Twice in November of 2017 & again in January of this year I filed orders to show cause seeking help to resume the counseling my children have been getting for the last three years.
All four were denied by Judge Franzblau of Sussex County NJ Family Court. Then, shockingly, my pending motion, asking for the same help, returnable 12/15/17 was adjourned; Indefinitely!
I appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of NJ begging for my case to be heard.
My ex husband was able to remove the counselors that my kids were seeing for three years in August of 2017 due to a loophole in ‘joint custody’ that allows him to participate in decisions about the children’s healthcare. Their behavior has deteriorated exponentially since, including severe disruption at school.
Students who are compromised emotionally suffer consequences few would expect. They are more susceptible to bullying and prone to outward displays of inappropriate or negative behavior. I am shocked and dismayed almost daily as I listen to the horror stories of middle school. If the general public knew how prevalent bullying remains in schools despite the fact we are 20 years ‘wiser’ after Columbine; they would be horrified. Bullying has also mutated in its severity. I have heard tales of physical violence going unchecked while innattentive lunch monitors play around on their cell phones. Today’s middle schoolers are more ruthless than when my older children went through school just a few years ago.
Recently, one son, who hasn’t wanted to leave the house with me in months asked if I’d bring him to Walmart so he could buy Valentine’s treats for a few girl friends he had at school. That night when I asked how candy giving went I was flabbergasted to hear that a girl took the bag he gave her and threw it on the floor.
Imagine how devastating such an act can feel when you are 12. The cruelty of adolescence remains incomprehensible to me. Middle school stress combined with the long term effects of domestic violence can devastate a young mind.
During a particularly bad episode of misbehavior my sons were threatening to claim I hit them so I decided to turn on my phone video and told them I did so. I recorded their highly inappropriate language, and physical attempts to hit both me and their 25 year old brother. My 10 and 11 year old boys began questioning both of us about issues they were incapable of processing.
“You’re trying to declare me ‘mental’ so you can get more child support.”
“You were molested, your sister was molested and so was Grandma. You’re going to molest us soon.”
And to their brother:
“You’re not our real brother, you don’t even have a father. Your father left because mommy is crazy.”
Despite being told about the contents of my recording, both the police, and Judge Franzblau, declined to watch it. The four minute video depicts the effects of domestic violence on children who are repeatedly exposed to inappropriate behavior. My kids came home on this Sunday in early January angry, telling me things no child should know about their mom. They were confused and overcome with aggression.
The disturbing footage begins as my son and I are lying prone, I’ve just restrained him to the floor after he punched his older brother in the eye then kicked him in the groin. He looks up angrily and addresses the camera; his perception clearly skewed:
“To anyone watching, that cunt wouldn’t stay out of my room…”
My 25 year old son can be heard saying that he is there to make sure they go to bed. Normally, he avoids chaotic Sunday nights but events have become increasingly volatile during recent weeks. This was actually the first time he came upstairs to intervene and help me.
My 11 year old then denounces the situation as harrassment and spits in my face. It’s after 11pm on a school night. I have been trying to get them to stay in their room and go to sleep since their father dropped them off, an hour late; at nine. As he drags me around the floor like a rag doll my head almost hits a wall and we get dangerously close to the stairs. I remember hoping he’d injure me, even send me down the steps, so this time the police would realize how desperately I need help. I dialed 911 for the first time that night; but again police said they could not help me.
During the brawl you can hear me tell my son I’m going to the judge for help the next day. I followed through and spent 8 hours waiting for a decision. When I was denied the first time I immediately resubmitted my request; giving greater detail about the previous night. I left court exhausted. Despite my efforts to demonstrate a need for supervised visits, my requests were denied. I was still compelled to send my kids to visitation every week even though they were exhibiting disturbing aggressive behavior when they returned home.
Judge Franzblau stated in his last decision that “there was no clear evidence or danger of irreparable harm”, even though I submitted violent drawings my son made of ways to kill himself & described the contents of the video. He stated that I had a remedy in law; filing a motion.
Apparently he didn’t realize that I already filed a motion. I’m still waiting for my adjourned court date to be heard.
It shouldn’t take this long or be this difficult to get help. My children are in peril, drowning in a system that does not recognize the long term effects of domestic violence. I am watching them display increasingly alarming apathy. They are beginning to lie about the smallest indiscretions and refuse to take ownership of their actions. I have a 5 year old little girl who laments she wants to kill herself if I won’t buy her candy at the supermarket. She spews foul language that would make anyone cringe because her older brothers use the F word fluently. When questioned by a police officer about why he called me a cunt, my 11 year old replied that he wouldn’t use such language if he didn’t hear it from his “Fucking Fat Ass Father.” I looked on helplessly, shocked by both his words and lack of accountability.
I emphatically believe that both parents in domestic violence situations should be required to undergo mandatory psych evaluations. A parent who repeatedly exhibits inappropriate behavior in the presence of minors should have supervised visitation until it can be determined that the children are no longer at risk to exposure of negative influence. When necessary, joint custody should not be granted if a parent has a history of serious mental illness.
School shooters aren’t born, they are created by a series of missed opportunities for help.
Perhaps tragedies like Parkland can be avoided in the future if the mentally ill receive adequate intervention. Gun control will only resolve part of the issue. It is imperative that we create a system that does not fail the most vulnerable members of society.
Call your state representative, or anyone who will listen and demand change.