Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Huntsville mom suspected of murdering her two kids before committing suicide...

Today's post is admittedly full of speculation based on incomplete information.  I fully admit that it's entirely speculation and opinion.  As details emerge about this case, I may decide to update or write a follow-up post.

I just became aware of a truly tragic case in Huntsville, Alabama.  It appears that a mother in Huntsville, Alabama has murdered her two children and killed herself.

According to news reports, Connie Henriksen Foster, 35, was embroiled in a custody fight with her ex-husband, David House, over their two kids, Layla House, 10, and David "Danger" House, 8.   Mrs. Foster and Mr. House were said to have "tension" between them.  The two, who lived around the corner from each other and divorced in 2011, were due in court July 11th.

Mrs. Foster and Mr. House shared custody of the kids and each had them on alternating weeks.  In March of last year, David House sought a modification of their custody arrangement because he believed his ex-wife was using the schedule to interfere with his parenting time.  He also sought a reduction in child support, citing a "material change in circumstance".

Mrs. Foster argued that because of her ex husband's work schedule, she had the children more than 50 percent of the time.  She was seeking full physical custody of the kids.  She was also requesting that the judge maintain the child support as it was because, Mrs. Foster claimed, her ex husband's salary had increased since the divorce.

Here's where things get interesting.  In several news reports, it's stated that Mrs. Foster asked that Mr. House be found in criminal contempt because he failed "to take the children to church during his week with them and for failing to ensure that they completed their homework."  It turns out Mrs. Foster was a devout Mormon and her ex husband, apparently, had either outright left the church or become inactive.  Her faith was evidently so important that she wanted her ex husband punished by the court for not taking their kids to church during his parenting time.

I found out about this case from a post on RfM.  The anonymous original poster claims to have some inside information on the people involved and writes that the mother was extremely stressed out over the custody battle and feeling like "damaged goods".  While none of the news reports mention the mother feeling like "damaged goods", I did think it was interesting that the RfM poster, who claims to have been in the same stake, made that comment.  If he or she does actually know the people involved and is in a position to see the family dynamics, I think the comment about "damaged goods" could be very telling.

Now... details about this case are still developing and I don't claim to know anything at all about the people involved.  It could turn out that this wasn't a murder-suicide.  It could have been an accident.  All I know is what I've read, what I've experienced and observed, and what I've learned about the culture in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  My comments are based only on my opinion, personal experiences, and impressions, which may not be based on the reality of this particular case.  I admit they are totally conjecture and I could be wrong.

What struck me about this case, though, was the idea that the mother may have been driven to kill over intense shame.  When I first met Bill in the wake of his divorce, he was saturated with shame.  He even referred to himself as "damaged goods".  I was puzzled by that comment.  Before I met Bill, I'd never heard it before.  In the fifteen years since our first date, I've heard the term "damaged goods" many times, usually among church folks.  It refers to a deep sense of shame some people have over failing to measure up somehow.

Bill was very distraught and felt extremely guilty over his divorce.  At the time, he was still an active member of the LDS church and had bought into its teachings about family.  More than once, Bill mentioned a quote that is often falsely attributed to David O. McKay:

"No other success in life can compensate for failure in the home"

As a Mormon, Bill really took this quote to heart.  He feared I would judge him negatively for his divorce.  He believed everyone judged him for falling short; when in reality, he was in an untenable situation and had survived unbelievable abuse for almost ten years.  Mormonism, which he and his ex wife had practiced for three years before their marriage finally crumbled, had not helped at all.  If anything, his church involvement increased his anxiety, shame, and negative self-image.  The church was not a source of comfort for Bill.  It was a source of intense stress.

I also think that like many people, Bill had a magnified impression that people even cared about what he was going through.  Most normal people have too much to worry about in their own lives to be overly concerned about someone else's private affairs.  Unfortunately, stress, anxiety, and depression can lead people to have very distorted views.  Having suffered from depression and anxiety myself, I remember how screwed up my thinking became.  Things that should not have fazed me would heap up on my conscience, adding to my stress level and further skewing my perspective to the point of overwhelming me.  I didn't see things as they really were.  In the days after his divorce, I don't think Bill saw things as they were, either.  Perhaps Mrs. Foster was feeling similarly judged and overwhelmed.

Because Bill had been somewhat indoctrinated and didn't want to give up, he tried to keep going to church for awhile.  After we married and he'd gone completely inactive, he stayed on the membership rolls for four more years.  He didn't want to upset his kids.  That seems really laughable to me now, since the idea of family actually means nothing to my husband's daughters.  If it did, the kids wouldn't have had such an easy time of ditching their father simply because of divorce and the fact that he doesn't believe in Mormonism.  

I know it's not how things are in every Mormon family, but I have seen this theme of shame over falling away from the church crop up repeatedly.  It's one way families pressure everyone to stay in the fold.  If a church member decides to go inactive or believe in another religion, they will likely find themselves ostracized.  Friends and other church members may decide to avoid them.  Family might even disown them or try to turn them into a reconversion project.  There is tremendous pressure within the LDS church to keep everyone in line and on the same page, even after divorce.  Those who don't stay in line can lose access to loved ones. It sounds like this intense pressure to stay in the fold could have been a factor in this couple's split, as it was in my husband's split with his daughters.

I don't think Bill's ex wife actually cared that much about Bill's decision to leave the church; I doubt she believes in it, either.  It simply made a good parental alienation tool.  What matters is that his daughters believed in the church and acted accordingly when Bill "strayed".  Had the Ex been a truly devout church member, my husband's decision to leave the religion may have made her feel intense shame.  However, Ex has no shame, so she simply used the concept of shame to try to control Bill and keep him and their kids under her control.

Now, if Mrs. Foster was a very devout Mormon, it's possible that she felt deeply ashamed by her divorce and panicked that her ex husband was influencing their kids to stray.  Mormons believe that as long as everyone believes and obeys the church's teachings, they will be together after they die.  So that belief, along with feeling stressed, ashamed, and overwhelmed, could have possibly led Mrs. Foster to take the extreme actions it appears she took.  On the other hand, she had remarried, and judging only by her Facebook photos, appeared to be in a good relationship.     

A truly loving and respectful relationship between non-abusive people doesn't involve shunning, disowning, and manipulation.  It seems to me that if my husband's daughters had ever loved their father, they would not have disowned him.  But, even as I write that, I know it's very likely that their mother told them outright lies about him and subjected them to intense pressure to disengage.  The Mormon church reinforces that pressure to stick with true believing members.  My husband's daughters were no doubt counseled to avoid people who offered a different perspective or, heaven forbid, had abandoned the church.  It's possible that Mrs. Foster felt pressured to keep the kids away from her ex husband.  He was obviously fighting back, though, and it may turn out that he was successfully making a case for being allowed to influence the children.  She may have seen murder and suicide as the only way to protect them from an apostate.  

Many divorced couples like to pretend the previous marriage never happened and prefer to try to replace their children's parents with a new partner.  After divorce, in some religious families, new so-called "worthy" spouses step in and are even presented as the actual parents of kids born to other partners.  It's like they want to whitewash the past.  This phenomenon doesn't just happen in Mormon families, but it does seem to happen more often in families where religion is involved.  There is a great deal of pressure to live up to the right image.  Those who fall short can end up feeling deep shame.  It does at least sound like Mrs. Foster and Mr. House were trying to co-parent, which is more than I can say for some divorced couples with kids.    

Of course, it's likely that a lot of people will immediately suspect that the woman's ex husband actually did the killing because people tend to be very cynical about men.  One person on RfM has already posted that the story seems "fishy" and we may find out that it wasn't a murder-suicide, but a triple homicide.  Time will tell.  Personally, I am withholding judgment on Mr. House until more information is available.  At this point, I see no reason to believe he is responsible for his ex wife's and children's deaths.  Police have said this case appears to be a murder-suicide perpetrated by the mother and that's what I will assume it is until new information indicates otherwise.

Again, I really don't know much at all about this particular case and, to any friends or family members who happen to read this, I want to express sincere condolences.  Regardless of the root cause, whatever really happened to Mrs. Foster and her children is a terrible and senseless tragedy.  However, if there is any truth to the allegation that Mrs. Foster was feeling ashamed and overwhelmed over the divorce and her ex husband's refusal to take the kids to church, I do think it points to a very toxic situation.  Shame can indirectly kill.

Edited to add... I just checked out Mrs. Foster's Facebook page.  She has a link to this article about finding a mate who loves God more than he or she loves you.  It was posted just three days ago.  It appears that she was also planning to move.  She posted a public listing for a house along with the comment that she had "upgraded" her husband and now it was time to upgrade the house.  


6 comments:

  1. When the Sandy Hook murder happened a few years back, I had a minor disagreement with a parish priest over who was entitled to the "victim" status. The priest was lighting tea light candles, one for each victim, on a table to the side of the altar. He was busy and asked me to finish the lighting of the tiny candles for him. Whatever was the final count of deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School I don't exactly recall, but my parish priest mentioned that there was one candle for each child and adult killed, including the young man who had perpetrated the whole event. I told the priest that I couldn't light a candle for that guy. It's not that it's my job to cast judgement, but I feel that if we portray the perpetrators of vile crimes as victims, some sick individuals might think, "If I drive my car onto a sidewalk full of people on purpose or shoot up a crowded theater, people will know just how wronged I was and might finally feel sorry for me." I'm sure it's a very small part if a part at all of what would go through the mind of anyone who would contemplate committing a horrific crime. Still, I'm all for feeling compassion for how life has kicked anyone around until that person chooses to make a statement by harming innocent people. That's sort of my feeling about the Huntsville mother, about whom I also read at RFM. If it were to turn out that it really wasn't a murder/suicide, it would be different, but she lost any chance of my sympathy when she killed the first of her two kids. Whatever she went through, if she did go through anything beyond what the average person endures (she sounded a bit Cluster B to me) is unfortunate, but she lost my vote for sympathy (not that my vote for sympathy was anything she ever sought in the first place) once she killed an innocent person, for whatever reason.

    The retired Lt. Col. went through hell and back, but he somehow managed not to kill anyone as a result. (I wouldn't necessarily have blamed him for killing the witch. She wouldn't have been exactly an innocent victim.)

    I'm probably preaching to the choir here again.

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    1. Whenever I write about true crime, I tend to get comments from people who know the folks involved. There isn't a whole lot of information about what actually happened in this case yet. I base my comments only on what has been reported, what I know about the church, and what I know about divorce.

      It does appear that this was a murder-suicide. Despite that, not knowing anything about Mrs. Foster, I hesitate to call her evil. I have been reading about her on Facebook and most people who knew her seem to think she was wonderful. However, if she had Cluster B tendencies, it could be that appearance was a facade. It does appear that she was very religious and you and I both know how weird things can get when religion is involved... especially a religion that places such an emphasis on families being invested.

      We don't know if she suffered from an organic mental illness. I am here to tell you that true clinical depression really fucks up your thinking. Extreme stress leads to very poor decision making.

      Anyway, if this was a murder-suicide, I can't blame people for being very angry about it. The children were entirely innocent and this is a tremendous loss. Right now, people are spouting off their opinions. I am among those doing the spouting. I thought about putting this in draft mode because I have a feeling it will be read by people close to the family. It's not my wish to upset them further. On the other hand, this is a personal blog and I write what I think about.

      As for Bill, you're absolutely right that he went through hell. It boggles the mind how much hell he went through. And because he's a man, people often assume that he was the main reason his first marriage failed. If they really knew him, they'd never believe it. It's because of Bill's experience that I hesitate to assume this was the work of the ex husband. But who knows? It could turn out that it was. Time will tell.

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  2. Speaking from experience. I marry a guy that at the beginning was super strong in the church and I was happy that he was doing the same things I was doing. I was very happy because one of the things that we believe is, eternal marriage, and this happiness comes with temple convenience, family, keep the commandment, and others (please read: The Family: A Proclamation to the world).
    Right after I got marry my husband did the opposite, every time we would go to church in the middle of the sermon he would tell me that he wanted to leave because he was bore. He would do this constantly, I would get so mad and tell him to get the keys and leave me alone. But I tried to pray, read the scriptures, go to church events with him but nothing worked. My mother and his mother advised me to pray for him, and have faith that he will want to go back to church. This never happened. One day I told him listen, salvation is individual. Do what you want and what makes you happy. I will work for my own salvation.
    It has been twelve years that I have not gone to church.
    Being away from the church I got to see the world differently, I have been around people with different believes, and different religions. And I have seen how happy people of these backgrounds are. I realized that religion is not the only thing that can make people happy. There are other ways to be happy. I could not argue that most member of the church are happy because their teaching help them to find happiness. But we are not the only ones that can find happiness.
    My whole thing about what happened to Connie Henriksen Foster is that she was a very loving mother, faithful, and true to her believes. She was a great example of a faithful member of the church. I think that she feared that her children were not going to get what most church families desired which eternal happiness. Not to mention the depression she was going through.
    I just fear that what happened to Connie Henriksen Foster may happen again among families. My advice is that if one of your spouse’s happen not to agree in what you believe. Move on and respect of the decision he or her is making. That does not mean that the person is bad, and throw away the great things they had done. Just because of religion. In my opinion, we still do not know for sure what it’s on the other side. We should not let religion define the kind of person we are, or the good things we have done. In addition, I believe that church members live a life of what is going to happen after we die. I think we should focus more is happiness right now.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. I completely agree with you, especially your last sentence. Life is short.

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  3. Did it ever occur to anyone that the church (any church) might not be to blame? That perhaps she was looking for reasons to punish her husband or have his parenting rights taken away? Women do that all the time. I've seen it many times in my own family.
    You're also all comparing 'religion' or 'church' to a relationship with Christ. It's about eternity, not just this very short life. (I am not a mormon and I disagree with their tenets whole heartedly, but I am a Christian)

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    1. Hi Laura. I believe I mentioned in the article that my impressions could be wrong in this case. For all I know, this had nothing at all to do with church. The fact that church was so very important to her that she wanted her ex husband punished for not taking the kids is a big clue, though.

      My conclusions are based on what I know about Mormonism and what Mormons believe about eternity. If you don't know anything about it, I recommend you learn.

      I understand that a relationship with Christ is different than religion or church. But thanks for the schooling.

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