Wall of Shame: 11Alive News Atlanta refers to murder as “Mercy Killing

A woman murdered her disabled son in Georgia. It’s a tragic story. His father discovered when he came to pick up his son for a visitation. This is just brutal:

The boy’s father came to pick him up for regular visitation but when he got there, no one came to the door. And that wasn’t typical.
The sheriff described how the father said those routine visits normally started.
“When he comes to visit, the kid comes to the door and is excited to see him,” Sheriff Tony Wooten said.
Feeling that something was wrong, the father called 911. But once inside, deputies found a devastating scene.

I can’t tell you any more about the boy – his likes, his dislikes, his needs, his desires – because the news report focuses on the mother. Worst of all, the headline writer speculated that this murder might be a “mercy killing.”
Here’s a screenshot from 11:30 AM CST on 11/09/15 (link to the article – UPDATE 6:34 11/9 The news station has removed all references to “mercy killing” but not acknowledged corrections)

The headline reads: Dawsonville mother shoots disabled son, self in possible mercy killing. On the video, it reads, “Police: Mom kills disabled son, then herself.” One DEK (a subheadline) read – “Murder-suicide or mercy killing?” Such rhetoric suggests that if she did it to spare the boy suffering, it’s not murder.

There was a certain amount of twitter outrage, including from me. 

In fact, I had just spoken about this on Tuesday at Access Living Chicago, when, at a workshop sponsored by Poynter on disability journalism, I talked about the need to write victim-centered stories in these tragic cases. I wrote about that for CNN a year ago after London McCabe was murdered.

Stories about lack of support services position children with disabilities as burdens to their families. They portray the crime as understandable. Such stories perpetuate the idea that it’s better to be dead than to be disabled, that life with disability is life without meaning, and that tired, stressed, caregivers have no hope. No wonder, in such a narrative, the parents do such terrible things. The children, or at least their disabilities, become responsible for their death.
Such stories do not just erase the victims, they are also generally inaccurate. In fact, this kind of killing is typically driven not by a lack of services, but by a warped understanding of disability itself.
London McCabe did not want to die. London liked big hats. He liked fuzzy stuffed animals. He made a wish on his cupcake for his sixth birthday. In September, his father wrote, “London is pleased as punch. He lays on our laps and puts our hands together. Last night he made the ‘mmmwha!’ sound and gave his Mommy a kiss. Then he made the same sound and pushed our faces together. He’s all smiles.”

I was thinking about that last paragraph, a paragraph that crushed me to write and still hurts to read, as in the description of this latest victim’s enthusiasm to see his father. He was a real person. He’s been murdered.

And this news station called it a mercy killing. 

Fortunately, the headline has changed. It now reads – “Police: Dawsonville mother shoots disabled son, self.”

I’m glad they listened. I’ve called the station asking for comment and will let you know if I hear anything.

Update 2:58 CST 11/9: It’s pointed out in the comments below that the piece still leads with “murder-suicide or mercy killing?” Contact them here.

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