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Mourning an Unspeakable Crime

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New River Valley Disability Resource Center
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People all over the country will gather Friday March 1st to show their love and support for people with disabilities.  But they’ll also be mourning a terrible tragedy, that only recently, has gained attention. It’s called filicide: the murder of a disabled person at the hands of their caregivers. It's not a new phenomenon, but what is new is the effort to shed light on the problem and put an end to it.

At Virginia’s newest Center for Independent Living in Christiansburg there will be a vigil for victims of filicide.   It's a crime that has gone mostly unreported or much remarked upon, until now. Frank Hayes is Executive Director of the New River Valley Disability Resource Center.

“And the numbers are pretty overwhelming.  When you think, 650 people have died at the hands of someone that they entrusted their life to!”

And that’s in just the past five years, when this phenomenon became acknowledged as it relates, specifically, to the murder of people with disabilities. There are no documented cases of filicide in the New River Valley, but according to the disAbility Law Center of Virginia there were 2 in Virginia: One in Tidewater and one in Richmond. That is, since record keeping began.

“This is something that is going on all over the country, It’s not a very well reported type of a thing.”  And when filicide is reported in the media, says Hayes, “often times it’s reported as the care giver or family member ‘easing their burdens' and making that choice and relating to their own individual needs and issues.”  He say, that "puts the disabled individual in the role of some kind of ‘side effect’ instead of as a person."

Hayes is not suggesting caregivers don’t have their own difficulties and the feels strongly that they do need to be supported too –more on that in a moment—But, he says, “so does the individual with disabilities.”

“They are struggling all the time, but their biggest desire is to live and live as normally as possible.  Although they have disabilities, they are wonderful people with full, complete lives that they are capable of living and are living. Unfortunately, folks become caught up in their own issues and we run into these regrettable situations where we have parents or caregivers that might end up murdering their wards.”

Tiffany Allison, Community Advocate at the center, says this crime and what leads to it too often remain in the shadows.  “It’s always a great shock to the other family members, how this happened, how could they have let it happen, what they couldn’t see."  She says often, it’s actually a murder / suicide, “they’ve lost two and you have one to blame.”

Allison points out that while the murderers are usually convicted, they often get relatively lighter sentences.  “There is the idea that somehow this was a ‘mercy killing.’  And that’s why it’s time to bring this hidden tragedy out into the open. Part of the problem” she says, “is the stigma, of having to tell someone that you don’t feel capable of handling and supporting the person in your care.”

And if that’s the case, she says, please, “If folks are living in these kinds of situations, come to us,” before it gets to even considering filicide. "That's what we’re here for. We see (problems like)  this all the time.   We work with the disabled community. Mental health is a disability. There’s no shame in any disability.

Again Frank Hayes: “When it gets tough, come to see us. We’ll treat you confidentially.  We’ll treat you as an individual.” 

And, thanks to the state of Virginia, and generous donors who help support the center, they’ll treat you for free.

“So, don’t be thinking about money when you’re coming in here.”  Says Hayes, "but we’ll help you learn to balance your checkbook again, and those money things you may need help with, but as far as fees, there’s no charge for our services.”

There are so many steps that can be taken, to stop the kind of murder that for so long, had no name. And if murderers do not mourn their victims, this Friday’s nationwide “Disability Day of Mourning” means, that many other people, do.”  

Disability Day of Mourning Candlelight Vigil

March 1, 2019  1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
53 W Main St, Christiansburg, VA 24073

Our office is a vigil site for the disability day of mourning. We will remember those lost to filicide by a reading of names of those murdered. Speakers are welcome but need to contact advocate@nrvdrc.org to get on the schedule. This is a peaceful protest.

We will serve light refreshments and snacks.