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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?"

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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?


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33 comments so far | Post a comment now
My 2 cents August 27, 2008, 11:15 AM

I’m not a parent (I was sent this link by a friend) but I feel there are some nutty people out there that are capable of anything and would have no problem using this as a method of getting rid of their kid(s), I mean..if a mother could drown her kids in a bathtub or stuck ‘em the back of a car and roll it into a lake…it shouldn’t be too far fetched to think there are parents out there who might deliberately lock their kids in the car.

THAT BEING SAID I feel the MAJORITY of cases are accidental. While I too am baffled how a parent could forget their kids (if I take my dogs anywhere and know they can’t go in somewhere I don’t go anywhere that I can’t watch them thru the window and will be longer then 5 min)

I don’t think a parent should be blamed if a kid crawls into a car, kids have a way of getting into places you’d never think imaginable, and you can’t kid proof the whole world (tho it is a good idea if you got kids to lock your doors when not in the car). But I do think a parent who goes into walmart and leaves their kid in the car for over an hour should at the very least, be investigated by authorities, because at some point it should dawn on the parent (early on) their kid is not with them in the store and the last time they saw their kid was in the car…..

Honest mistakes do happen in life, and I do feel for those parents, I can imagine there isn’t anything worse then losing kid.

Jacqui August 27, 2008, 11:37 AM

I get soooo frustrated with parents who think they are above the law. I do not leave my kids unattended in the vehicle. Not to go pay for gas, not to bring in the groceries…Haven’t we all heard the stories about someone taking off with an unattended car that had children in it? So to FORGET them in there is unbelievable. I have little boys…age 5 that are 10 mos. apart…I can’t imagine going 5 minutes without hearing them and not going to check on them….

Anonymous August 27, 2008, 11:40 AM

I have a four-year-old boy, and I could NEVER, EVER forget him. If I don’t hear him making noise for more than 2 minutes, I am checking on him. I won’t even leave him in the car when I go to the gas station (I’m so afraid of him getting kidnapped). I will never let him play outside unsupervised. You never know what can happen to your child. How in the world can someone lose track of their child for that long? I have been plenty stressed out, and never, EVER could I forget my child, or lose track of them for a couple hours. SICK. What is this world coming to?

Viki August 27, 2008, 11:43 AM

There is NO excuse for anybody leaving a child in the car.
Your child should be the first thing on your mind - THEN work and everything else.
NOTHING is more important than the well-being of a child.
I have a 6-year old boy and no matter how stressed I was (abusive relationship, divorce, health problems, moving, …) HE was and always will be my #1 priority.
People who put their job or anything else above their children shouldn’t have any to begin with.
It just makes me so angry to read post about those poor, suffering parents… The kids were the ones who suffered the most. Those were the ones who got “forgotten”.






Loving Mother August 27, 2008, 12:17 PM

I could never, ever, ever even fathom leaving my children in the car for any length of time. My children are grown now and I’m sitting here thinking back to when they were young. If my children were in the car with me, they would be the first to leave the car before luggage, groceries, store purchases, etc. I was always too afraid of them being kidnapped, or the car suddenly going into gear to leave them in the car by themselves. My piece of crap ex-husband used to get upset if the meat was left in the car and I always reminded him that my children come first no matter what. So no, I can’t understand anyone who would leave their child in a car unattended for any length of time. And no, if I were on a jury, there is no excuse in this world that I would accept EVER.

Karen August 27, 2008, 12:42 PM

I don’t believe that anything but the rare case of this is done on purpose. Who would subject a child to such a slow and painful death on purpose?

I am a working single mother and there are some days when I forget the simplest things. I have never forgotten my child in a car, thank god, but years ago when my daughter was little, I would sometime forget that it was my turn to pick her up from the sitter when it was a change of routine. Stress does incredible things to the brain.

I actually think the change of having to put the baby car seats in the BACK seat because of air bags has contributed to the increase in this kind of tragedy. When the baby was in the seat next to you, it made overlooking them much less likely. But a sleeping infant in a seat where you don’t see them—add that to the overworked brain of someone who is prob running late and already thinking ahead to the work day—I can understand how it happens.

These parents have to live with themselves for the rest of their lives, and I’m sure that’s not easy. That 911 tape—that woman wasn’t hysterical, but you could hear in her voice she was already mentally shutting down and punishing herself. She had already gone for help for her child and found out it was to late—then she did what had to be done and called the police.

Katie August 28, 2008, 12:50 AM

I just have a couple questions… for anyone who is talking about how sometimes kids will get away from us and play in cars.

#1 - Why aren’t people LOCKING the cars so that the kids can’t get in to play in them, in the first place?

#2 - If a child is old enough to open a door of a car from the outside, why are they not old enough to open it from the inside?

#3 - If a child is old enough to open a car door, they are old enough to be TAUGHT not to play in them, are they not?

For the people who are ‘accidentally’ forgetting their children because they don’t normally drop them off, etc. That is EXACTLY why we are told to put our briefcases, backpacks, etc in the backseat. It is a tragic problem that really needs more widely-available education in how we can prevent this from happening.

Tammi August 28, 2008, 4:00 PM

Any parent, mother or father who leaves a child in a car (even if they say “oh I forgot”.) should be punished. I truly believe people are killing they’re children this way and it is so sad. I just can’t imagine doing something like that!! Just like these mothers who kill their babies because of postpartum! Please - get real!

HuntersMom August 28, 2008, 5:23 PM

I am the mom of a 2 year old. I think every case should be taken on a case to case basis. While I am sure that parents may use this as an excuse to get rid of their children I do not believe this is the case with all. I am very disappointed on how judgemental all of you are. Anytime a child dies it is very sad. But I do not think putting a grieving parent in jail is the answer. I am sure their guilt will last forever!

CK1 September 3, 2008, 9:44 AM

I agree with Nikki How dare you judge people on what a News story says? God knows you won’t always get the TRUTH from them. They want to make a good story which does not necessarily report the whole truth or even the feelings of the parents who endure this tragedy. For God’s sakes people, stop being judge and jury, and try to come up with a solution to this tragic occurence. Calling parents murderers isn’t going to help the situation. Do you think if you’re child died this way that you would want people convicting you? Who gives you that right? Where is the compassion for these families? I’m sure if you talked to these parents you would hear a truth that would help you better understand and you wouldn’t want to condemn them. Too many people play God. Remember Karma people. What comes around goes around so don’t be so quick to judge.
May God watch over our children to prevent this tragedy from happening again. AMEN

Adrian September 10, 2008, 10:39 PM

I have a baby and I know that he comes first. I wouldn’t ever leave him in the car. I don’t even shut the front door until I have him in my arms.

I know I’m forgetful but I know where my baby is at all times, Just like every parent should. So, no, I don’t believe the “Oh I forgot.” excuse.

Those poor babies. How can a parent forget that their angel from God is in the car? It makes me want to cry when I hear a child died in such a horrible way.

And why aren’t the car doors locked and shut at home? These children shouldn’t even have the chance to play in the car. There should have been no way to open or get into these vehicles! If it’s too hot then CRACK the windows.

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