‘I Want This to Get Over’: After Congressional Shooting, Complex Grief for a Gunman’s Widow

‘I Want This to Get Over’: After Congressional Shooting, Complex Grief for a Gunman’s Widow

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — He flung dishes at his wife, roared at the television, erupted during an outing at a local brewery. Suzanne Hodgkinson became so concerned with her husband’s growing anger that she wrote to his doctor asking for help.

Now, the wife of the man who opened fire on a congressional baseball team in June wonders what more she could have done.

“I get up every morning feeling guilty because I didn’t stop it,” Ms. Hodgkinson said Wednesday at her home in Belleville, where the blinds are drawn tight and photographs of her husband adorn a living room wall. It was her first sit-down interview with a reporter since her husband, James Thomas Hodgkinson, attacked a Republican congressional baseball team practice in Alexandria, Va., wounding Representative Steve Scalise and three other people before the authorities killed him. (Mr. Scalise remains hospitalized in fair condition.)

Ms. Hodgkinson continued, “I wake up with hot sweats, thinking: ‘You should have known. You should have known.’”

To be the spouse, or the parent, or the child of someone who commits a mass shooting is to enter a strange club whose members are envied by no one and reviled by many. Rites of passage include hate mail, death threats and the vicious thoughts that haunt them at night. That they should have seen it coming. That they could have done something. That they are alone.

And then there is the question of how to mourn. How to dispose of a body that everyone else wants to forget.

On Tuesday, Ms. Hodgkinson, 65, received an email at her job at an accountant’s office on Main Street, asking her to identify the body. A formality. When she opened the attachment, her husband’s swollen face stared back at her. “That’s Tom,” she said she had written back, before hitting delete.

She would like to deal with Mr. Hodgkinson’s remains as quickly and quietly as possible, she said. He was not a bad man at his core, she believes. They married in 1984. When they met, he was happy, singing in her ear at a grocery store. Later, they took in some 35 foster children and adopted two.

But in the late 1990s, after a long illness, he took a turn, she said. His rage came more suddenly.

Now she wants it all to go away.

She has asked a funeral home run by a friend to cremate Mr. Hodgkinson’s body. After that, she may scatter the ashes at home, or bury them in nearby St. Louis. She won’t be informing the public. There will be no ceremony.

“Coldhearted as it may be, I’m done,” Ms. Hodgkinson said. “He was not a religious man, and I’m done with this. I want this to get over. I want my granddaughters to be able to go to school in September without this being dredged up.”

She paused, then spoke as if Mr. Hodgkinson were sitting on the couch next to her. “You just walked out on me.”

The number of mass shootings in the United States has risen sharply in recent years — to an average of 16.4 per year between 2007 and 2013, from 6.4 per year between 2000 and 2006. (These numbers come from the F.B.I. and exclude episodes tied to domestic violence and gangs.)

Each of these attacks has left the families of innocent victims awash in pain, with a growing number of Americans roped into the indelible trauma of a sudden, senseless, violent attack.

And more and more, communities and individuals are having to wrestle with how to treat the bodies of these perpetrators.

Relatives of people who commit mass shootings often choose secret burials in unmarked graves with small or nonexistent ceremonies, designed to keep away critics and vandals. This has not stopped the onslaught of attention and condemnation.

Bodies hold symbolic power, said Ann Neumann, a visiting scholar at New York University who studies death, with places of interment often seen as reflections of how society valued a person.

Which is why people get so worked up when a major criminal is buried in their backyard.

After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, protesters lined up outside a funeral home that had agreed to accept the body of one of the attackers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, holding signs that urged his family to “Bury the Garbage in the Landfill.” After the attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015, relatives of the killers, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, interred their bodies in a cemetery far from their California home after a closer graveyard rejected them.

Soon, a city near the cemetery passed an ordinance prohibiting the burial of known terrorists in the area. Someone took a saw to the sign marking the American Islamic Institute of Antelope Valley, which maintains the plots, hacking it to pieces.

“I had rocks thrown at me. I was spit on. People shot at me with BB guns,” said Peter Stefan, the funeral director who handled the Tsarnaev burial. It took a week to find a cemetery that would take the remains. Eventually, the bomber’s family washed his body according to Muslim tradition and buried him in a Virginia plot under the cover of night.

Mr. Stefan said he had helped bury the bomber “to show society that we are really a few steps ahead of people like this guy.”

He added, “We did for him what he probably would never have done for anybody else.”

In 1999, after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 13 people at Columbine High School in a Denver suburb, a handful of people went to a ceremony for Mr. Klebold. He lay in a cardboard coffin surrounded by stuffed animals.

At the time, the Rev. Don Marxhausen, who spoke at the ceremony, called the Klebolds “the loneliest people on the planet.” A year after the funeral, he was ousted from his church, amid tension over his involvement with the case.

He later said he had done it out of a sense of duty and would do it again. “When your phone rings, you go,” he told The Denver Post.

Mr. Klebold’s mother, Sue Klebold, said in a recent interview that a colleague had urged her to have the funeral, arguing that it would help with the grieving process. It did.

“When you lose a loved one who has hurt other people, one of the struggles you have is the ability to focus on your sorrow, because your grief is so complicated by all these other things,” she said.

She gradually came out of hiding and wrote a memoir. Today, when she is out in public and someone mentions that her name is familiar, she can be open. “I think you’re probably thinking of my son Dylan,” she says, “who was one of the shooters in the Columbine tragedy.”

Here, Ms. Hodgkinson is wrestling with the legacy of the man she loved. She denies that he ever assaulted any of their children, which was alleged in decade-old court documents.

Neighbors have urged her not to mow the lawn, for fear she’ll be attacked in her yard. A friend takes out her trash, dispersing it around town to evade snoops. When she ventured to the Shop ’N Save alone recently, a white-haired woman — a stranger — approached her in the parking lot and slapped her across the face.

“That was O.K.,” Ms. Hodgkinson said. “Get it out, lady. Just don’t pick up a gun and shoot somebody.”

She cried all the way home.

It was during the 2016 presidential campaign that Mr. Hodgkinson’s Democratic politics boiled into a rage, she said. He sided with Senator Bernie Sanders. When Donald J. Trump won, Ms. Hodgkinson said, her husband went “bananas.”

She urged him to take action locally. He said he wanted to go to the top.

In March, he left for Washington, saying that he was going to work on tax reform. She figured he would return, she would retire and they would buy a motorcycle “and just go for days on end.” He emailed the family and expressed frustration with Washington’s intransigence.

On June 14, she woke to the sounds of her 2-year-old grandson. As she does every morning, she turned on the television and fed her grandson cookies and milk. The anchors were already talking about the shooting, and it briefly occurred to her that her husband might have done it. He had been so angry.

Then the reporters mentioned that the attacker had a rifle. She figured it couldn’t be Tom. He had left for Washington with only his pistol.


Published at Sat, 01 Jul 2017 15:24:17 +0000

Trump Administration Targets Parents in New Immigration Crackdown

The Trump administration has begun a new tactic to crack down on illegal immigration, this time arresting undocumented parents suspected of having paid to have their children ushered into the country by smugglers.

When unaccompanied children are apprehended at the border — often after having been taken there by smugglers — immigration officials initiate cases for their deportation, a process that can take months or years. In the meantime, many of those children are placed with parents or relatives who crossed earlier to establish a foothold in the United States and earn money to send back home.

Until recently, those adults have not been priorities for arrest, even if they are in the country illegally.

But in February, President Trump’s Homeland Security secretary, John F. Kelly, signed a memo promising to penalize people who pay smugglers to bring their children to the United States, saying that the agency had “an obligation to ensure that those who conspire to violate our immigration laws do not do so with impunity.” This past week, Jennifer D. Elzea, the deputy press secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed that arrests had begun.

In some cases, parents or other relatives who have taken in undocumented children may face criminal smuggling-related charges and the prospect of prison; in other cases, they will be placed in deportation proceedings along with the children. The administration said the arrests would deter families from putting children in the hands of smugglers for dangerous journeys through regions controlled by drug cartels.

Though the American authorities have long sought to arrest human smugglers, sometimes known as coyotes, they had not paid much attention to the relatives paying the smuggling fees, until now. Parents and others “who have placed children directly into harm’s way by entrusting them to violent criminal organizations will be held accountable,” Ms. Elzea said.

The effort drew immediate criticism from immigrant advocates because it would separate families, including many that had fled violence or poverty.

It would also discourage parents from claiming custody of their children when they arrived in the United States, the advocates said. That could lead to more children being sent to juvenile immigrant detention centers, where those with no identifiable family in the United States are often held.

“It’s punishing parents for trying to save their children’s lives,” said Michelle Brané, the director of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “And it’s endangering the children in the process.”

Sarah Rodriguez, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency would try to find other relatives to place children with before sending them to the detention centers.

The operation is the latest phase of Mr. Trump’s ramped-up immigration enforcement. Shortly after he was inaugurated, he rescinded guidelines put in place by President Barack Obama that sought to limit arrests to those with serious criminal convictions. Apprehensions soared 38 percent during the first three months of his presidency compared with the same period last year.

The administration did not say how many parents had been arrested, and immigration advocates said that based on reports from lawyers, they did not think many had been.

But the effort could put hundreds, if not thousands, in jeopardy of arrest.

Unaccompanied children began to flood the southern United States border three years ago, when 68,541 were detained after fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. Since Mr. Trump took office, border crossings have plummeted to their lowest numbers in decades, possibly a result of his threats to arrest and deport greater numbers of undocumented immigrants.

Even so, from February through May, 5,445 children were detained after crossing the border unaccompanied by adult relatives, according to Customs and Border Protection, and a majority of those have wound up reunited with parents or other relatives.

A Salvadoran immigrant who gave only his first name, Jose, because he feared prosecution said in an interview Friday that he and his wife had come to the United States more than a decade ago, and that, as many young couples from their village did, they had left their toddler son, Henry, behind with relatives.

When Henry turned 13, gang members began to court him and threaten him for not joining them. In 2014, Jose wired money to a friend in El Salvador who said he knew of a coyote who could take Henry to the United States. “It’s impossible to do without help,” Jose said. “My son didn’t know the way, and it was dangerous.”

Jose said that he himself had feared being apprehended when he went to pick up Henry from a government facility after he was detained. But Jose was not — at least not then.

“I was worried, but my bigger worry was that my son would not be safe in El Salvador,” he said. “To stay there would have been fatal.”

Children often arrive in the United States with addresses and phone numbers of parents or other relatives written on paper. Before now, those relatives would usually not be arrested, even if they were undocumented, unless they had committed a crime.

But the Trump administration considers that practice as winking at the relatives’ illegal status.

The operation to arrest sponsors of unaccompanied minors is being coordinated by Homeland Security Investigations, a division of ICE that investigates fraud and other crimes. It was unclear how often parents would be criminally prosecuted as opposed to being placed in deportation proceedings. Prosecutions could send a tougher message but also require more time and effort.

Immigrant advocates questioned whether parents seeking to be reunited with their children could be convicted of a crime, and instead viewed the effort as an attempt to draw headlines.

“This seems to me to be a fear-mongering propaganda move that is poorly thought out and not in the best interests of the children,” said Lenni Benson, who directs the New York Law School’s Safe Passage Project, which provides legal representation to unaccompanied minors.

Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general who oversaw American military operations in Central and South America from 2012 to 2016 as head of the United States Southern Command, has a longstanding interest in combating human smuggling. In April, he reiterated his vow to pursue the smugglers, many of whom extort their clients by demanding exorbitant sums, or resort to kidnapping or violence.

“There is nothing the attorney general and I want more than to put human smugglers out of business,” Mr. Kelly said in a speech at the San Ysidro border crossing in California. “And we will do everything in our power — and within the law — to end the flow of illegal migration.”

His department pointed to several instances in which smugglers had endangered children’s lives in car crashes and overheated truck holds where the migrants were hidden during their journeys. One investigation found that a 12-year-old Ecuadorean girl had committed suicide after smugglers sexually assaulted her.

Cristiane Rosales-Fajardo, a community organizer in New Orleans who works with Hondurans there, said she knew of many parents who had paid $2,500 to $4,000 to coyotes to smuggle a child into the United States. “Some hadn’t seen them since they were newborns,” she said.

Because of the violence in Honduras, Ms. Rosales-Fajardo said, the parents believed that entrusting their children with smugglers was a better option. “The parents wanted to make sure their children were safe,” she said.


Published at Sat, 01 Jul 2017 15:18:27 +0000