The Sorrow and Tragedy of Sonya Spoon

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.