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The Difficulty and Tragedy of Being Unguarded

Christine Vernon
Lakeisha Murph

Mugshot of Lakeisha Murph

If I were to think of one front where women are not helpless to effect change, it is the safety, education, and welfare of children. As women, this has long been one of our areas of expertise. Although this year, I have become aware of the most haunting story involving a twenty-four year old mother. It involves two little adorable boys I met in the past several months. The story begins years ago when for some unknown reason, a mother suffered some hardship and her children were put in foster care. And the story leads to two little boys, a second generation in foster care now. The drastic change in the little boys circumstances came to public attention in December 2007 when it was reported in the Chicago Tribune that their mother faced murder charges. She was accused of beating her 2 year old son to death. On the internet, there is an account from CBS 2 Chicago “Brandon Nelson Murph of 7802 S. Carpenter was pronounced dead at 5:05 pm at Children's Memorial Hospital, a spokesperson for the Cook County Medical Exmainers Office said. Nelson-Murph died after suffering intra-cranial bleeding and anal trauma, the spokesperson said.”

Brandon was found unresponsive by his father when he returned home from work. The two year old boy had been in the care of his mother, Lakeshia Murph. His father took him to a hospital on the South Side of Chicago and Brandon was eventually transferred to Children's Memorial on the North Side of Chicago. There no information about this case on the internet since it first made the local news.

There is a website connected with the Tribune though where there are public comments, seven pages of 202 posts regarding this case. The comments range from sympathetic, compassionate and loving to damning and cruel. There are the typical rants so common to “comments” sites. The thoughtful posts and lengthy and ugly rants represent the outrage and frustration people feel with social conditions of every kind, related to this case or not - child abuse and neglect, birth control, welfare, unwed mothers, overpopulation, unevenly distributed wealth, lack of opportunity, DCFS, Democrats, Republicans, working mothers, drugs. You name it, someone has hit on the theme. It is human beings, grieving, angry, outraged, turning themselves inside out trying to make sense of a tragedy, circumstances, and social conditions that cause such a tragedy to happen but, ultimately, the internet chatter doesn't work to bring understanding or insight to the situation. People don't have the facts in the case for one thing.

The facts are not easy to come by, as with every legal case, there are privacy issues. But I have been able to turn up a few more things than posted. There is the possibility that little Brandon spent part of his first two years in a nursing home with a physical problem. He was, in some way, a special needs child. This, of course, does not justify murder but it may provide some insight into what happened.

Lakeshia Murph did not have the six, seven or eight children listed in the posts. At 24, she was the mother of ten children. We don't know if or how this child's disability continued to impact him and his family. Again, this does not justify murder or physical abuse but it would seem to make a difference in the stress and the dynamics in a family.

If authorship is accurate on the posts....these excerpts (in italics) stood out to me....

Comment #84... from Lakeshia's sister Tatiana Murph a sister's testimonial Tatiana writes of her love and support for her sister and her children. She says accurately that none of us knows what happened that night.

Comment #88....from a staff member where Lakeshia lived at 18 years old with her four children. She states about Lakeshia “for so long she cried out for help. So many times there are signs right there in front of our faces we chose to ignore.” What woman do any of us know who at the age of twenty-four has, or could, competently take care of ten children, including one that is disabled.

Comment #97 ... “while she was in the group home in which you worked, wasn't she ever taught about using birth control?” During the Bush administration,”Abstinence Only” was promoted as birth control counseling. Bush made “funding for abstinence education a cornerstone of his campaign in 2000. During the Bush era funding nearly tripled from 73 Million a year in 2001 to 204 Million in 2008.” (source). According to The Journal of Adolescent Health “The Federal Government has greatly expanded support for abstinence only programs since 1996”.

Comment #19...”Erwin McEwen, the newly appointed permanent DCFS director (he had been acting for a year) was quoted in this (Tribune) paper as 'looking for flaws' in his agency”. Lakeshia became pregnant at thirteen because of sexual abuse in a foster home. She was raped. Apparently, she had no choice in her first pregnancy. Whatever, if any, dysfunction she suffers because of her age, or disadvantage, or any other condition, and whatever abuse she suffered, began while she was under the care of the State of Illinois.

If all I had ever seen or heard was the original news reports, Lakeshia Murph would be only a name to me. She would be less than a person because she was accused of killing her son. I would never have understood this story in the way I do now. This year, by chance I met two of her little boys, Lakeshia's children, and this family became real to me. I was a guest at a dinner party where the little boys were not long after their mother had been arrested and separated from them. They were beautiful, active boys with all the hope and sparkle of children their age. Although the talk between them and the other people present was never about their situation with their mother or the tragic circumstances, it was just normal dinner talk about school and activities of the day, I have heard from others that the boys love their mother and that they loved their brother, Brandon, and were traumatized by the loss of him. For the evening I was with these two little boys they were eager to talk about the days events, school, their favorite games and activities. They were energetic, happy children and if their personalities spoke to anything observable, it was that they were loved and loving. Since then, I have been haunted by their story and their mother's story.

How can we, in this “democracy” be outraged by human rights violations in other countries when we have so many in our own. Whatever dysfunction might have happened in the life of Lakeshia Murph's mother that she had to put one or more of her children in a foster home, that child, Lakeshia, was supposed to be safe in foster care. It was the job of the State to insure that child was safe. That detail alone, that at thirteen, Lakeshia was unguarded speaks volumes about this situation.

Lakeshia Murph is a person with nine surviving children including the two little boys I met, boys who love and miss their mother and want her with them. It is a tragedy that this separation has happened to all of them. Lakeshia and her mother represent two generations of testimony to the consequences of what can happen when children are not kept safe. The safety, welfare, education and happiness of children should continue to be the first front of good women everywhere. We must give our children every chance of surviving and thriving. They must never be “unguarded” .

Christine Vernon

Christine Vernon is the founder and editor of Women's International News.