Leanna Norris confessed to police that she drove her 2 1/2-year-old daughter to a remote road in Newport on June 23, gave the child two or three syringes of Benadryl to make her go to sleep, placed duct tape across the child’s nose and mouth and then covered the toddler with a blanket. Norris didn't want to look at the child's eyes as she suffocated.
The chilling confession was contained in a search warrant affidavit that was unsealed by a Penobscot County Superior Court justice Friday.
That warrant is a narrative of family violence and the reality is far worse than it appears.
The child’s father knew something was wrong the day before his daughter died, and tried desperately to find her, calling police for help and posting desperate pleas on Facebook.
By the time his daughter was found, she was dead.
Violence in families is often associated with domestic violence, which is violence between intimate partners, but family violence is more far-reaching than that and there are far fewer services and programs available to help these victims or to identify offenders.
The victims of family violence include children and the elderly. The offenders are parents assaulting children, siblings assaulting each other, children assaulting their aging parents, and many other scenarios.
The Norris case is not unique. We’ve seen too many deadly family violence cases in Maine, including the tense 18-hour standoff on Minot Avenue in Auburn in 2007 during which 42-year-old James Michael Peters shot his mother in their driveway. He was killed hours later.
In 2008, Scott Poirier of Sabattus was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of his father, Roland Poirier. According to police, the son shot the father as payback for his father performing a sex act on him when he was a teenager. Poirier was facing a murder charge, but the jury considered his depression and abuse and convicted him of a lesser crime.
And, in 2011, Mainers were shocked by the discovery of the body of 6-year-old Camden Hughes alongside a road in South Berwick. His mother Julianne McCrery, lived in Texas, and later pleaded guilty to her son’s death. She admitted driving far from home to hide her crime. Like Norris, she was believed to have been suicidal at the time.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, family violence accounts for about one in every 10 incidents of violence in this country. Of those crimes, about half were crimes against spouses — fitting the domestic violence definition — 11 percent were sons or daughters victimized by a parent, and the remaining cases were crimes against other family members, including the elderly.
According to Legal Services for the Elderly, an estimated 5 percent of Maine’s elderly population are victims of abuse, but a startling 84 percent of elder abuse cases go unreported because the elderly are often dependant on their abusers, which can include adult children, friends or caregivers.
Similarly, a large percent of crimes against children go unreported because children are often intimidated by and dependent on their abusers.
And, many other family crimes are not reported because the victims love and want to protect the offenders.
According to the most recent Department of Justice figures (compiled in 2005), most family violence victims in this country are white. “Most” means a whopping 74 percent.
And, most family violence offenders are white: 79 percent.
Of the victims, 66 percent were between the ages of 25 and 47.
Of the offenders, 62 percent were 30 years or older.
And, unlike other types of violent crimes that are most likely to occur in public places, most family violence crimes are committed in the victim’s home, in secret.
And, unlike other types of violent crimes, family violence offenders are far more likely to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when committing these crimes.
The family violence data the Department of Justice examined most recently was collected between 1998 and 2002, which indicates a lack of study when compared to the annual study of domestic violence crimes.
A decade ago, according to the DOJ, of all the murders of women in this country, family members were responsible for 43 percent of them. And, eight in 10 murderers who killed a family member were male.
The average age of children killed by a parent was 7 years, and 4 out of 5 victims killed by a parent were under the age of 13.
Of the crimes family violence offenders serve prison time for, 78 percent of the crimes were against women, more than half were against a child under the age of 18, and more than a third were against a child under the age of 13, which means young women are more likely to be victimized by a family member than others.
The DOJ statistics indicate, during the years studied, that family violence crimes dropped from 1993 to 2002, but that’s the last year the department reported the data. It reports data on domestic violence crimes every year.
Since such a large portion of family violence crimes occur between partners, that greater level of attention to partner violence seems warranted, but not at the sacrifice of studying the contributors to family violence, so we can figure out how to control it and spare more victims.
Loh Melody Grenda, the little girl who was killed in Newport last month, was one of those victims.
She died in the dark, drugged and struggling to breathe.
We all owe her and other victims of family violence whatever help we can muster as a society, and as individuals.
Our families should be sanctuaries, not killing grounds.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.