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Lisa Snyder and the Deaths of Conner and Brinley

Did a child commit murder-suicide, or did their mom kill them?

Source: Used with permission from iclipart.
Source: Used with permission from iclipart.

Thirty-six-year-old Lisa Snyder is facing the death penalty, charged with killing her 8-year-old son, Conner, and her 4-year-old daughter, Brinley, on September 23, 2019. According to Lisa, Conner was depressed and angry over being bullied at school and committed suicide by hanging himself in the basement of their home. She believes he killed his sister, who was found hanging three feet away from him because, as he had previously told her, he was scared to die alone.

The deaths immediately aroused suspicion. “It would be safe to say we immediately had questions," said District Attorney John Adams. “Eight-year-olds, generally that I’m aware of, do not commit suicide." But he is wrong.

Suicide in Preteens: Do 8-Year-Olds Kill Themselves?

Although uncommon, 8-year-olds do commit suicide. About 33 children between ages 5 and 11 kill themselves every year; it is the third leading cause of death for this age group. On January 26, 2017, for example, 8-year-old Gabriel Taye took his own life after being kicked and hit by several of his elementary school classmates in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two days later, he hung himself with a necktie from his bunk bed.

Even when young children don’t act on them, suicidal thoughts aren’t something to be taken lightly. Certain disorders—depression, ADHD, eating disorders, learning disabilities, or oppositional defiant disorder—tend to up the risk of suicidal thoughts. However, it may not be the diagnoses that set suicidal children apart from suicidal adults. It’s the greater role situational factors play. For children, suicide tends to be driven more by life circumstances—family dysfunction, bullying, or social failure—than by longstanding problems. In at least some cases, a child experiences a stressful interaction, feels extremely distressed but doesn’t know how to cope, and then impulsively acts to hurt themselves.

Do these kids really expect to die? It’s unclear whether anyone in the throes of impulsivity really thinks through the consequences of his or her actions. But make no mistake, by the third grade, virtually all children understand the word “suicide,” and most are able to describe one or more ways of doing it. And while they might not understand all the murky details of death (for instance, some kids think dead people can still hear and see or are turned into ghosts), by the first grade, most children understand that death is irreversible, i.e., people who die aren’t coming back to life.

Do Kids Commit Murder-Suicide?

So, it’s clear that some children do kill themselves. But what about murder-suicide? If Lisa Snyder is to be believed, her 8-year-old son essentially killed his 4-year-old sister, because he was afraid to die alone. If true, this, I believe, would be the first of its kind. The youngest perpetrator of murder-suicide I’ve come across was 14 years old, and like most (65 percent) murder-suicides, the victim was an intimate partner (girlfriend).

Sadly, there are plenty of children who die by murder-suicide, but they are the victims. More than 1,300 people died in murder-suicides in America in 2017, about 11 a week. Forty-two were children and teens under 18 years of age. The perpetrators? Adult men and women, family members, current or former intimate partners, moms, and dads. Statistically, twice as many dads as moms commit a murder-suicide in which a child is killed, older children are more often victim than infants, and prior to the murder, the parent showed evidence of depression or psychosis. Which brings us back to Lisa.

What About Mothers Who Kill Their Children?

Over the last three decades, U.S. parents have committed filicide—the killing of a child over the age of 1—about 500 times every year. Mothers who kill their kids tend to differ depending upon the age of the child. For instance, mothers who commit neonaticide—the murder of a child within 24 hours of its birth—tend to be young (under 25), unmarried (80 percent) women with unwanted pregnancies who receive no prenatal care. In comparison to mothers who kill older children, they are less likely to be depressed or psychotic and more likely to have denied or concealed the pregnancy since conception. Infanticide, the murder of a child between the ages of 1 day and 1 year, occurs primarily among mothers who are economically challenged, socially isolated, and full-time caregivers; most commonly, the death was accidental and a result of ongoing abuse (“he just wouldn’t stop crying”), or the mother was experiencing a severe mental illness (depression or psychosis).

When it comes to filicide, i.e., the murder of children over the age of 1, it gets a lot more complicated. Research suggests that five primary motives drive the murder of older children: 1) In altruistic filicide, a mother kills her child, because she believes death to be in the child's best interest (for example, a suicidal mother may not wish to leave her motherless child to face an intolerable world); b) in acutely psychotic filicide, a psychotic or delirious mother kills her child without any comprehensible motive (for example, a mother may follow hallucinated commands to kill); c) when fatal maltreatment filicide occurs, death is not planned but results from cumulative child abuse, neglect, or Munchausen syndrome by proxy; d) in unwanted child filicide, a mother thinks of her child as a hindrance; e) the rarest, spouse revenge filicide, occurs when a mother kills her child specifically to emotionally harm that child's father.

While Lisa Snyder is innocent until proven guilty, some facts that have emerged are concerning. One, in 2014, Lisa Snyder’s children were removed from their home by Child Protective Services. They were returned in February 2015. Two, one of Lisa Snyder’s best friends has told police that three weeks prior to the children’s death, Lisa told her that she was depressed, couldn’t get out of bed, and no longer cared about her kids.

Authorities also allege that between September 17 and 23, she googled search items including “hanging yourself,” "carbon monoxide how long to die,” and a website “that describes an effective way of hanging a person using a drop/simple suspension.” They also state that they have interviewed teachers, peers, and family members and have found no evidence—other than the defendant’s assertions—that 8-year-old Conner was bullied or depressed.

The Bottom Line

Children as young as 8-year-old Connor do get depressed. They occasionally commit suicide. They don’t commit murder and then kill themselves. And the odds of a parent taking a young child’s life remain a lot higher than the child taking his own.

The jury is still out on the Snyder case. The evidence will speak for itself. But one thing is clear: Just because a child can take his own life doesn’t mean he did.


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