Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

What were they thinking?

Posted November 16, 2010

The question everyone had yesterday when three teenagers were sentenced for killing Apex High School student Matthew Silliman was "Why?" And maybe even more importantly, "How can we keep it from happening again?" These are the questions that people have asked me over and over again as I covered this case throughout the past two years.

Defense attorneys tried to answer the "why" yesterday. Dysfunctional home lives, depression, low self-esteem, drugs, alcohol, neglect, undue influence and control by others...these were just a few of the things thrown out by attorneys and psychologists. But I'm not sure anything that was said fully answered these questions. There are plenty of troubled teens out there who never kill anyone. What makes these young people different?

They did apologize-all three of them.  As trite as this sounds given their situation, it is not actually the norm. Murder suspects do not generally apologize for the basic reason that they rarely ever publicly admit guilt-even when they get a plea deal. In their apologizes there were moments of clarity, humility and remorse that made me wonder where all of that was back in November 2008 when Matthew Silliman was suffocated with a plastic bag. I wondered why these teens who can now so clearly articulate what they did wrong and the pain they have caused couldn't stop themselves from participating in a murder?

As parents, our biggest fear is that something awful will happen to our children. This is where Matthew Silliman's parents now sit. Our next biggest fear is having our children do something awful that they cannot recoup from. This is where the parents of the defendants sit. I'm sure the parents of these teens have spent many sleepless nights since Silliman's death wondering where they went wrong and what they could have done differently.

The only people who can truly answer these questions are the defendants themselves. Maybe someday we will get those clear answers, answers that could prevent another tragedy like this from ever happening again. I sure hope so.

1 Comment

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  • ICTrue Nov 17, 5:07 p.m.

    "How can we keep it from happening again?"

    How about if they stop coddling these little criminals their whole lives and trying to excuse their behaviour with a bunch of made up diseases so the first time something doesn't go theri way, they go off the deep end??

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