It is human - or perhaps just journalistic - nature to think we can explain the inexplicable. We take all the horrifying details that tumble from first one murder-suicide that wipes out an entire family and then unbelievably a second one - the sunny yellow house, the 10th-floor hotel room, the three little tykes, the two sisters, the mom who blogged and the one who volunteered - and we grasp for a universal string theory that will tie the who-what-where-when-and-how to a why.
Which came quickly enough, as both stories converged in the same and predictable place: Both of the men who killed their wives and their children turn out to have been in the kind of financial trouble that has become the ever-thrumming backdrop of life and now, apparently, of death during these times - the foreclosed house and huge debt in one case, the intimations of an investment scheme in the other.
Two men, two finances in disarray, two families gone.
Did the economy make Christopher Wood and William Parente do it? Make them kill, one by one, their entirely innocent and trusting children and the mothers who had borne and raised them? Did the economy make them remain in the house in Middletown or the hotel room in Towson for hours amid the lifeless bodies of their loved ones? Did it make Wood open the door to the baby sitter who was supposed to watch the kids later that evening, and Parente take a phone call from his daughter's college roommate and tell her Stephanie wouldn't be returning to campus that night - when in both cases their children were long dead?
I don't know, but it seems less like an explanation than an excuse.
That Wood and Parente followed their heinous acts by killing themselves as well means we'll never know for sure. But it would be an added tragedy to chalk up Francie Billotti-Wood and her children, Chandler, 5, Gavin, 4, and Fiona, 2; and Betty Parente and her daughters, Stephanie, 19, and Catherine, 11, as victims of the recession, collateral damage to the economic crisis.
They now come up first in the Google roll call of a search like "family murder suicide economy," pushing further down the list the one in California, and the one in Ohio and in Hong Kong.
Maybe it's recession fatigue, but I'm starting to feel like it's too easy to sigh, "Oh, woe, the economy," to wallow in it and despair over it. It is terrible, for sure, and I will match my 401(k) losses and my fears of unemployment and my dark view of the future against anyone else's. I would never diminish the dire straits that all too many of us find ourselves in, even those of us who have economic halos over our heads and never missed a payment or gobbled up more than we could afford.
And yet, most of us are taking it, we're absorbing the buffeting and hoping and working and scrimping and praying and, perhaps most of all, leaning on our families and friends rather than taking it out at them. After all the horror stories that have emerged in recent months - individuals and charities robbed blind by Bernie Madoff, companies vanishing into the abyss of bankruptcy, entire neighborhoods pocked with abandoned, foreclosed houses - I can't imagine that Wood and Parente had it so unalterably bad that there was nothing to do but kill everyone.
Wood's issue seems particularly bizarre in that his new position at work added to, rather than diminished, his role: According to his wife's blog, he was struggling because his new, $97,000-a-year position made him "more of a major player," "more of a mover and shaker." And this is a bad thing?
Parente's situation is a little less clear at the moment, beyond a fellow attorney's claims that he had invested with him, became worried that it might have been a scam and, when he cashed some checks from Parente, they bounced.
In fact, the truest thing I've heard in this whole sad spectacle is what that attorney, Bruce Montague, said the other day: "The money can be replaced but to destroy lives like that is unforgivable."
It shouldn't have taken crimes as horrific as these to reinforce what we all should keep in mind, even as we the economy continues to stagger: It's only money.
I know, I can't live without it either. I hope not to have to. And yet, when I read stories, like a recent one in the New Yorker about the real slumdogs in India, kids who scavenge for scrap metal and even plastic tampon applicators that they can sell for a pittance, I think: that's real economic woe.
More will emerge, no doubt, about Wood and Parente that will fill in some of the missing details: We already know, for example, that Wood had been prescribed medication for depression. Maybe we'll learn how two men, seemingly blessed with what friends say were supportive wives and beautiful children, living in comfortable houses and gainfully employed, at least for the moment, still somehow felt they didn't have enough of a cushion to weather whatever financial storm was approaching.
But we already know at least one thing: It's not just the economy, stupid.
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