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Are Moms Murdering Children in Hot Cars?

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With all the recent reports of children dying in overheated cars, some moms wonder, "Could this be intentional?"


We told you last week that 21 kids have died in hot cars just this summer alone. This week, add 3-year-old twins from Kansas to the list, after they were discovered dead in the family car two hours after being reported missing. Depending on the state, as many as 40% of parents aren't charged with murder. Are all these cases accidents?

While Kids and Cars--a national nonprofit group that advocates for child safety--tells momlogic that the numbers for 2008 haven't been released yet, here are some interesting facts surrounding this phenomenon: A recent Associated Press analysis of more than 310 fatal incidents in the past 10 years found that prosecutions and penalties for parents vary widely--depending on who left the child in the car.

Surprisingly, moms are treated much more harshly than dads. And while mothers and fathers both commit this crime at about the same rate, moms are 26% more likely to go to prison--and their sentence is two years longer than terms received by dads.

Why do women get a harsher rap? Experts say moms are held to a higher standard in the justice system than they are in family life generally. Could it be because women are supposed to hone that maternal instinct--and when they fail to protect their children, they're seen as failures themselves? Or maybe it's because most lawmakers are men--and the difference in gender hinders their ability to relate and empathize?

You're probably wondering how a parent--any parent--could leave their kid to die in the first place. The reasons vary. Some kids crawl into a car or trunk without being noticed by their parents, while other moms just get pre-occupied. It sounds far-fetched, but research shows a stressed-out brain can forget a kid as easily as it can a pair of keys when it goes on autopilot. And finally, others simply don't realize how quickly a car heats up, even on a moderate day (the temperature inside a car can rise more than 40 degrees in one hour--and cracking the window does little to help).

But do the reasons even matter? The law in some states like Tennessee says no--that punishments are handed out according to the outcome--not the intent. While in cities like Las Vegas, it's been the policy of the Clark County prosecutor's office not to file charges unless there is proof the parent meant to harm the child.

Some moms even discussed the phenomenon as the perfect crime for moms who go over the edge. Knowing many parents who make this error never see the inside of a courtroom or jail cell, is it possible moms who murder their children are blaming a faulty memory for the crime they willfully committed?

next: The Secret Your Man Isn't Telling You: Page 2
33 comments so far | Post a comment now
shanna August 26, 2008, 4:54 PM

As a mom who can’t fathom the idea of EVER forgetting her kid in the car…much less her TWINS..I can completely buy the idea that this could be a new alibi for moms on the edge. Horrible.

Anonymous August 26, 2008, 6:07 PM

Me too.

Tracy August 26, 2008, 9:36 PM

As a mother of 2 all i can say is…. How could any parent forget there kids in the car, I dont even let my kids sit in the car unless i am right there next to them.. makes me sick to my stomach to read about all them poor kids, i start crying. why does this happen, and how can it be stopped?

Child Safety Advocate August 26, 2008, 11:30 PM

First, they weren’t twins. Local media got that detail wrong. It’s still being investigated, but most likely the children got away from Mom and decided to play in the car. The oldest of the two was almost 4. They got in and either couldn’t get out, or just got warm and sleepy. It’s a terrible thing that happens to good, loving parents. Let’s please not jump to criminalizing these people based on little bits of information that we get from not-always-reliable sources. Just remember to actively supervise your kids, always lock your vehicle - even if you don’t have kids, the neighbor kids could still sneak in - and teach your kids that a vehicle is no place to play in or around.

jean August 26, 2008, 11:32 PM

to forget your kids is not unthinkable. There have been plenty of times when I have done it. What IS unthinkable to me, is that someone could do it on purpose. I think you are sick to suggest that could be the case, merely because they might not be punished for the crime.

beatrice August 26, 2008, 11:37 PM

To respond to Child Safety Advocate, I get that you are saying we shouldn’t criminalize these Parents. BUT the very fact that ANYONE can lose track of their kids for 2 hours is beyond me. They ARE CRIMINALS.

hayley August 26, 2008, 11:40 PM

what a sick new trend this could be, that women are using this as an excuse to kill their kids. I am nauseaous over it!

dabney August 26, 2008, 11:45 PM

I totally agree…sick, sick, sick!

Tamara Shurling August 27, 2008, 7:14 AM

I have never been so stressed out, and believe me I have been super stressed out, to forget my kids. I cant comprehend this, or the fact that someone could not know where their kids are for 2 hours. Also how are these kids getting in the cars, mine stays locked if I am not in it. It makes me sick to my stomach to think how horribly these children died.

ashley August 27, 2008, 7:33 AM

My car sits in my driveway and I always leave all the windows down. If some child gts in there is most definately a way out. I have 2 kids a 6 yr. old and a 15 month old. Everytime we’re in the car I check 12 times to make sure I haven’t left the baby somewhere, even though I know I haven’t. I don’t understand how a mother can leave her child in the car. If I don’t hear one of my kids laughing or playing I am going in the room to see why things are so quiet. I totally agree that mothers on the edge could be doing this on purpose. So many have killed their children in the past, now they have just found a way to look innocent. It is absolutely sickening.

Cassandra Lynn Lytle August 27, 2008, 8:30 AM

Anyone who forgets their kids must have underlyng issues such as drug use or alcohol use. No one in their RIGHT mind could forget their children. Mental illness as well could play a role. If none of these are present then the parents should be charged with murder!

Nikki August 27, 2008, 8:57 AM

Until this very moment I respected the news that momlogic brought to me - Until now. As someone who personally knows a family who lost their child from an overheated car (they have since become large lobbyists to get laws improved and safety standards for vehicles improved - does that sound like a family that wanted their child to die?) - I can’t believe to begin to tell you how SICK I am that your site even suggests that these parents INTENTIONALLY do this to their child. I will have to assume that it’s never happened to the owners of this site or even to someone they know. It doesn’t take a forgetful parent for a child to get away from mom or dad. The fact that this piece even SUGGESTS that a parent would do this on purpose tells me that momlogic isn’t as interested in showing all sides of the story. I’ve read all the pieces you’ve done on this recently and in not ONE have you talked to any families who have had this happen - only blurbs of news and media reports. Why not talk to a family and see what they think of you suggesting that they purposely killed their child?

I echo Child Safety Advocate and I agree that I am SICK, but for clearly different reasons than they are.

Laura August 27, 2008, 9:20 AM

I’ve always felt that mothers or fathers should be charged with murder. Anyone who forgets their child long enough for them to DIE doesn’t deserve to have a child to begin with. And any others they have should be taken from them as well. I’ve heard it said that “they’ve suffered enough with the loss of a child” but just think what that poor child endured as they gasped for their last breath.

Vicki August 27, 2008, 9:35 AM

I agree that is not an excuse for stress enough to forget my children. At one pointleaving children in a hot car. At one time in my life I was working full-time, going to nursing school at night, and had a cheating husband. I cried all the way to school, I was as stressed as anyone could be but I never forgot where my children were. I never let them out of my sight long enough for them to die in a hot car. Stress is not an excuse, there is NO EXCUSE.
I got a divorce and an RN dregee and have 2 healthy children.

Mom that's been there August 27, 2008, 9:46 AM

My family has been through this; however, it was my husband who left our son accidentally. I can tell you that 6 years later, he still doesn’t understand how he forgot. He wasn’t the one to take our son to the babysitter everyday; it was me. We switched roles that morning and babysitter…she lived on his way to work. My husband’s brain was trained to go to work; unfortunately his lapse turned tragic for our family.
We had to go through the legal system, but by God’s grace, my husband was not charged.
I believe in my heart that parents would not use this a way to “get rid of their children”.
As mother’s, we can help protect our children and other children, by talking about prevention; putting your briefcase, purse, cell phone, lunch in the back seat with the children. Putting a teddy bear in the car seat; when the child is in the car, the bear rides up front; it’s a visual reminder that the child is in the car. Take the time to call your spouse and vice versa or daycare provider to make the child(ren) have arrived safely. Remind your children that vehicles are not play equipment.

Vicki August 27, 2008, 9:51 AM

I posted minutes ago. The first two sentences of my comment make NO sense. Sorry, I revised my comment and didn’t delete some of the words. Sorry. I am embarrassed.

Lisa Russell August 27, 2008, 9:55 AM

I can totally see my kids getting into the car while playing and overheating. My 3 yr old likes to get in & sit in her car seat when the others are playing outside. She’s fallen asleep before, too. I leave the windows down at all times like someone else here suggested. I wouldn’t “forget” my kids for two hours, but they’ve played outside for more than two hours at a time and I wouldn’t even think they were missing if they were gone that long.

I think to suggest that someone is killing their child on purpose this way is really lame and irresponsible. Nice way to get clicks, but really.

cara August 27, 2008, 10:53 AM

I hate to say it, actully, no I don’t…but does anyone think that the fact that we USA is THE most medicated country on the planet have anything to do with this. Because I have three kids, I’m always yelling, screaming, sometimes even saying if Mother Theresa was alive and locked in the house with them she’s be pro-choice, but I could not ever imagine forgetting about them in a car or anywhere else fo that matter. I think it’s all the perscription drugs people are on, without a doubt.

Misty Rosado August 27, 2008, 11:03 AM

People, GET REAL!!! Did you here the 911 tape of the professor that left her infant in the car?! She was not crying, not frantic, AND she left the baby there again to call 911. Some sick people are doing this on purpose, not all of them, but some of them are. What better defense than “I forgot, I was running late and I just forgot”. Please, even if it wasn’t on purpose they should have some kind of repercussions. They are your children, not a piece of property you just forget in the car for hours and hours!!! And yes, I have three children (ages 13, 7, & 2). They can remember there purses, cell phones, and suitcases, why not a HUMAN BEING?!

cara August 27, 2008, 11:06 AM

Again people…what’s going on PERSCRIPTION PILLS

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