Making A (Teen) Murderer

When I was 12 years old, a good friend of mine was sexually assaulted by her father. When she told me what he’d done to her, we cried together. At this point he’d already been arrested, I think. I remember being so sad for her, and so very, very angry. I looked at her and said, “We could kill him.” Here is the point where I stop and take a moment to be upfront and tell you that WE DIDN’T KILL HIM. We were 12 and 13, and despite a good amount of shared rage and imagination, we didn’t follow through. It felt good to plan it, though.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and I’m telling another friend that story one night over some drinks. I wondered what might have happened if we had actually followed through on our plan, and the first seeds of Audrey Harte and ‘It Takes One’ were planted in my head.

The character of Maggie, whose father abused her and paid with his life, is based on several girls I knew growing up — with a healthy dose of imagination tossed in. Audrey and I have very little in common, though we grew up in similar towns and got into our share of trouble. As I began researching for the book, I realized just how differently my life might have turned out if I hadn’t decided that getting into trouble was… well, more trouble than it was worth. And I had to wonder what makes some kids?

Do a Google search on kids who kill and you’ll get no end of websites on evil children (the top 10!) and stories about adolescent serial killers, but I believe there are 3 ways that kids become killers: 1) They’re hurting and don’t know how else to make it stop 2) They’re broken psychologically (ex. psychopaths)  3) They’re trying to protect someone else. In some cases, it’s a combination of any two out of the three. And sometimes, it’s really hard to make sense of it, such in the case of school shootings. Other times, you wonder why they didn’t break sooner, or why some adult didn’t step in. People rarely see it coming when a kid becomes a murderer. We see them as innocent beings, and think something as evil as murder is beyond their capabilities. I’m not saying we as a society are willfully blind, but maybe we’re painfully naive. After all, Ted Bundy was a kid once.

There is no definite set of criteria to determine if someone is willing to commit murder. Some people have survived horrific things and have gone on to be positive and productive people who manage to find joy in life. Other people can grow up in a golden environment and still manage to turn out bitter and twisted. I think it all boils down to brain juice — chemistry. I’m not saying some people are born killers, but I think there’s something inside them that makes it easier for them to make that choice. That ‘something’ fascinates me.

Question: What do you think makes a kid a killer? Leave a comment below to add to the conversation.

In It Takes One, Audrey Harte made the choice to kill, and she’s had to live with it. Living with it isn’t the same as regretting it, but one of the consequences of having made that choice is that she’s the prime — the only — suspect when Maggie turns up dead.