Domestic Violence Death Of A Parent Can Scar Kids For Life
Rosenbeck remembers being 13 or 14 when she first heard her mother get beaten.

"There would be kicking, hitting. We heard it, but we didn't see it," she recalled. But, she added, "We knew what was going on."

Rosenbeck and her siblings were "very cut off" from others, she said. Her stepfather often wouldn't allow them to attend parties or gatherings, and it was difficult to make friends.

At home, little things triggered his temper.

"It was tense all the time. I felt like I was constantly being watched [and] walking on eggshells," Rosenbeck said. "School was probably the safest place. Rather than being like the kids who love snow days, I hated them."

Tensions boiled over when Scott Magnano struck Rosenbeck with an open hand in front of her siblings. The move prompted Jennifer Magnano to take her children and flee to California four months before the killing. When she returned to Connecticut for a custody hearing, Scott Magnano shot her four times at close range, then killed himself.

Silent Victims

Growing up in a home rife with domestic abuse and witnessing the violent death of one or both parents can affect children for life.

"It's not unlike what you hear about people coming back from war," said Faith Vos Winkel, an assistant child advocate for the state. "Their ability to assimilate and cope can be non-existent."

The experiences can hamper their social lives, school or job performance, or even their physical health, she said. Some children develop anxiety, difficulty sleeping and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The way that batterers impact kids can be very dramatic [or] subtle," said David Mandel, the statewide service administrator for DCF's domestic violence consultation initiative. The initiative is a network of domestic violence experts who consult with DCF workers.

In many cases, children who lose parents to murders or murder-suicides were exposed to some form of household abuse beforehand, Mandel said.

"This is coming on top of [witnessing] other violence or even being abused themselves," he said. "There are all these little things that are cumulative and profound."

In the same way that breathing secondhand smoke can lead to cancer, research shows that a child who sees the physical assault of a parent is as likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as a direct victim of abuse, said Betsy McAlister Groves, founding director of the Child Witness to Violence Project at Boston Medical Center and author of "Children Who See Too Much: Lessons from the Child Witness to Violence Project."

"There's a whole group of children that we don't typically consider victims," McAlister said. "They are children who are bystanders to violence, who are not physically injured, but they're profoundly affected by the violence. They are silent victims."

Children left behind in the wake of the death of one or both parents may go on to live with relatives or be placed in foster care, said Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesman for DCF.

"We're looking for alternative forms of permanency," he said. "When there are no relatives that could give appropriate and adequate care, we're looking to get that child adopted."

A range of services are also available for dealing with trauma, including therapy.

"The implications are lifelong," Vos Winkel said. "For someone close to them to die in such a horrific way — people are going to need some kind of support."

Finding Strength

Coping with their mother's death has been an uphill battle for Jessica Rosenbeck, now 24, and David Magnano, now 18.

"At first I kept thinking: I can't go on. I can't do this," Rosenbeck recalled. "I didn't know what to do with myself."