Update March 16, 2017: About two and a half years have passed since this horrifying event. My understanding is that Sonya Spoon has been in jail since the night she killed her two small children. Yesterday, she pled guilty to their murder, part of a plea agreement that will allow her no fewer than 35 years in jail. She will be sentenced on June 7.
She will live that time knowing that she killed her children. I hope she has gotten help with her mental illness, which was certainly a factor in this. That doesn’t make her innocent. Maybe it helps the rest of us to vaguely understand what happened. Maybe not.
Some sad good may come of this case. Per this news report, legislation is being introduced in Maryland that will alert social services not only when children are harmed, but also when they threatened.
Surely you’ve seen the photos and heard the news: 24-year-old Sonya Spoon admitted to murdering her two small children. It’s a tragedy from any objective view. You’ve probably seen the photos from Sonya’s twitter feed, the sweet pictures of her children. Heartbreaking to see them now.
One of her tweets was a link to the song “Missing” by Evanescence. Sonya wrote that “Evanescence always gets how I feel during the highs and the lows.” It was posted June 7, exactly 2 months before she murdered her son and daughter. Why this song resonated with her, why she posted the link–I have no insights. The lyrics, though, are powerful:
Please, please forgive me,
But I won’t be home again.
Maybe someday you’ll look up,
And, barely conscious, you’ll say to no one:
“Isn’t something missing?”
You won’t cry for my absence, I know –
You forgot me long ago.
Am I that unimportant…?
Am I so insignificant…?
Isn’t something missing?
Isn’t someone missing me?
It’s possible that the lyrics reminded her, as an adoptee, of her Russian mother.
It’s possible they reminded her of the father of her child.
It’s possible they reflected how she felt in the world.
It’s possible it’s none of these things.
Sonya’s tragedy hits close to me because the murders took place in Cheverly, Maryland, where my kids, all now in their mid-20’s, grew up and still live, and where they rode the bus as kids to the same elementary school as Sonya and her brother.
I remember seeing Sonya, a little blond child, when she was adopted at the age of 3 from Russia. I think that would have been in 1993, around a time I was working professionally in adoption and becoming aware of the very tough realities of Russian orphanages and baby houses. I knew the family only in passing, to say hello to when we passed in halls of their elementary school, or walked by their house, around the corner from ours, en route to the Cheverly Community Center. We never know the sorrow and struggles of those we pass by.
How could a mother kill her two little children? I have no answer or insights about that, just incredible heartache for the children, their mother, their fathers, their grandparents, their playmates, their family, their friends. Sonya, whatever the judicial system outcome is, will have to live the rest of her life with the knowledge that her children are dead, and that she killed them.
Of course mental illness played a role here. I would guess adoption did too, and we have to stop being afraid to recognize how trauma affects individuals. I’m not saying this happened because she was adopted. Please. I’m saying that what happened to her in utero, what happened to her during her early childhood, what may exist in her genetic history, what the impact of being separated from her biological family may have had–much of that is related to trauma and loss. There is a spectrum to trauma, trust, and grief around adoption, and many children are resilient. Most grow up to be strong, healthy adults. Some have deep, dark, lifelong, real struggles.
I don’t know what went on in Sonya’s head. I feel certain that her parents tried to get help for her, that they loved her and their grandchildren deeply, and that the complexity of their grief right now knows no bounds. Anyone who has struggled to help a loved one, adopted or not, with mental illness knows well how tenuous the lifeline can be, how mentally ill people can accept and reject help, how high hopes can be for the right meds, the right therapy, the right treatment. And how easily those hopes can be dashed.
In most cases, of course, we muddle through, perhaps not elegantly but nonetheless safely, though often not without scars.
My final point here is a minor one, perhaps, but still. You’ve seen this photo of Sonya from news outlets, which many have thought to be Sonya’s police booking photo. Many have asked how she could smile in such a photo.
It’s from her driver’s license. This doesn’t condone the crime, or the guilt, or the tragedy. It does suggest we often don’t have the full story when we pass judgement.
As a mother, as an adoptive parent, as a grandmother, I grieve. It’s all I can do.
Preventing these terrible things from happening will require a good deal of
work, as we read about this sort of tragic outcome every day in the newspaper,
where adversarial methods of dispute resolution are/were mistakenly used to
“resolve” cases between biological parents of minor children.
The work will require reforming family courts in all 50 states, properly selecting
these judges, and professionally training them prior to service (duh). These
critical courts, the family courts, impact and routinely, severely harm millions
of American people and families each year, Proper selection/training will ensure
each family court judge in the United States has the knowledge and the wisdom,
e.g., to employ mediation in resolution of all cases having minor children at issue,
to treat parents equally as a rule, and to generally not permit adversarial methods
of dispute resolution in cases between biological parents of minor children. Such
best practices were developed by courts to prevent intense, long-term suffering
(currently involving millions of American parents/children). Compliance with such
model laws/practices among all family court judges would reduce the number of
homicides, suicides and bankruptcies in the US by approximately 50%. Whenever
there is such a family court created tragedy–Spoon and 20,000 similar family litigation
torture – to poverty – to massacre cases we see each year–it would help to start
exposing, naming, and bringing to justice where necessary, the family lawyers
and family court personnel who promulgated, or permitted, the use of litigation
(especially complex litigation) to resolve these disputes, between distressed parents
of minor children. It is done for the sole purpose of appropriating the parents’
money and assets, Due to the way they are selected, a small percentage of
current family court judges in the US act in conformity with well-established
principles designed over decades to protect children and families in these
(child custody) cases, and few follow the letter or the spirit of laws, court
practices designed to protect children. Chief among them is treating the
two parents equally on custody/access, fairly and with respect. And always
following appropriate, modern judicial protocol in child/family cases, meaning
ordering nothing other than inter-parent communication and mediation, and
doing nothing other than facilitating, encouraging inter-parent cooperation
A child without a conscience , the high risk children , children that failed to bond in the first 2 years … You know, the “adopted children ” that have no conscience –
The “science” and “stereotype ” is a lifelong battle of proving you’re a decent member of society. I refuse to allow “adoption” to take blame here. Adoption can not be used as the excuse or justification or reasoning for such crimes. “How adoption played a role” is a hand being played way too often by all members of the adoption triad and it harms everyone .
I agree this is not about adoption. It is about reforming the family courts where it is routine for mis-educated, unskilled court personnel (often multiple) to preside over cases between parents of minor children, the millions harmed each year, the hundreds of thousands of bankruptcies among their parents, and the tens of thousands of deaths our family courts cause each year. See newest comment.
Thank you for your eloquent expression of our heartache.
Maureen, Thank you so much for this insightful post.Like other Cheverly residents, I am struggling to get my mind and heart around this tragedy that has befallen our friends. As one who has been in a motherly support role to another young Russian adoptee, I have witnessed heartache around trust and a hunger for the real connection that has always been “missing.” Your words ring true. Again, thanks.
P.S. Of course, what is missing is not a reflection on anything lacking in the adoptive parents, but on the depth–preverbal even–of the hunger.
From one Mommy to another Mommy, thanks for your words, as so many of us are just speechless and unable to utter. Thanks for taking care of expressing our grieving hearts. Thank you, Maureen.
Thank you, Maureen for putting to words my thoughts; everyone’s thoughts who is struggling with this tragedy. I always say, ‘There for the grace of God,… It can happen to any family. As we all know the outside world only sees somewhere between 3-5% of what happens in our homes, our families, in our heads. No matter what punishment Sonya receives it will not bring her children back, and will never end her pain and suffering. My heart breaks for everyone involved.
Thank you so much for this eloquent piece. What happened here is tragedy, heart breaking tragedy.
Thanks Maureen. Thank you also for visiting Hana’s grave one the anniversary of the verdict against Larry & Carrie Williams. I too won’t forget her or the children who dream of a better life through adoption. So glad I met you & discovered your blog. Blessings to you and your beautiful daughters for your passion & activism for the entire Adoption community.
So grateful for this, Maureen. Thank you.
As usual, your thoughtfulness and insight touched me deeply. I’ve been consumed by this sad situation since the moment my kids and I drove by the Spoons’ house Sunday morning on the way to church and saw the cops, the crime scene tape, the forensic crime van in the driveway, and the throngs of media. My heart hurts — for those precious babies, who we saw running up and down Forest Ave. some afternoons on our way home from school pick-up; for Sonya’s parents, who are long-time members of our community and until this week were just normal folks living a private life; for Kayla and Ayden’s dads; and for Sonya, who was obviously plagued demons we cannot even begin to fathom.
Learning that she was an adoptee just compounded the tragedy for me.
Thanks also for publicly making the point about the driver’s license photo. The public comments have been making me crazy. It certainly looked like a license photo to me and I’d actually checked my own license yesterday to confirm that it had the same blue background.
I grieve with you.
It is possible those words meant how she feels about her first family and the connection she lost……