After the Saugus High school shooting in Santa Clarita, California, in November 2019 the Los Angeles Times observed the spiritual and practical help that local churches generously offered to the victims’ families. There was even a “flood of donations” for the mother of the shooter, who had killed himself.
“His mom is certainly a victim in this,” pastor David Hegg told my colleague Harriet Ryan. “She’s lost a son.” 
I rejoice that someone cared about the shooter’s mom. People rightly sympathize with families of victims, but have you ever wondered what it is like to be the mother of the murderer?
- I don’t intend to leave out dads, but I am a woman writing to encourage women.
- I write from a Christian perspective.
- Pronouns will be used interchangeably because murderers can be female as well as male.
- While suicide results in heart-rending grief for the mother, there is a different complexity of this terrible grief for the mom whose son first murdered others or whose daughter first murdered her own children. There is more complication in the murder cases which end in arrest rather than death. I would like to include this latter situation.
- Obviously, the reaction of the mother who supports her son in terrorism will be different from that of the mother who never dreamed of her child committing a crime. It is the latter about whom I write.
- I recognize that mothers of criminals live in wide ranges of neighborhoods, economic standing, family cultures, beliefs, and parenting practices. I don’t profess to know what all such mothers think and feel, but I’d like to offer some possible reactions for the purpose of understanding, empathy, and help.
- My first draft for this post was so full of reactions that the post grew too long, so there will be subsequent posts.
A mom receives a phone call that her child was identified or arrested as the school shooter or for murdering a friend, husband, or children. How might she react?
Shock and Concern. “My child did what? This can’t be happening! No, no, no, NO, NOOOOO! Surely not! Is my child alive? Does he need medical care? What is happening to him now? I have to go see him right now! Will she be safe in jail? Is this real?”
Horror. As details are learned or awareness grows of what was actually done, so also grows awareness of the savagery, the hideousness of it. Realization of the results of the crime and the impact it will have on everyone involved can produce a bewildering array of anguish, disgust, outrage, and dismay.
Shock continuing. “They say it was my child! How could he be so cruel? Oh, those poor families (who’ve lost loved ones). O God, how grieved You must be! Oh, my child, my child, how dark is your heart? I’m devastated! My world is shattered. This can’t be real. I can’t even think what to do. Or think. Or even what to feel. This is more than I know how to process.”
Anger. “I’m so upset. I’m not really sure what I feel. Is there anger? I’m in turmoil but, yes, I think I’m angry. Shouldn’t I be? Did he give one thought of compassion for his helpless victim? Did she give one thought to all our love and what we taught about right and wrong?”
Aloneness. Who is there to talk to? As one mom said, “Just an hour after I heard that my daughter had been arrested I called a religious leader who was supposed to help me. When I mentioned that I might be angry, he shut me down, ‘Oh, you mustn’t be angry!’
“Are you kidding?! Isn’t it right to be angry at unmitigated evil? Who in their right mind would not at least consider being angry over murder?
“Can’t you just listen to me right now? If someone I’m supposed to trust for help has no compassion, who else is there?”
Hope in the immediate aftermath
How can someone help this mom?
Give kindness. This mom’s child has just done something so horrendous as to be unthinkable. Depending upon the person, the sense of shock may generate bewilderment, anger, fears, desperation, confusion, despair, or a calm numbness. A kind act like the one reported at the start of this article can go a long way toward comforting and connecting her with someone who can help her spiritually.
Provide compassionate presence without expectation that it will bring immediate relief. If this mom is in shock you will not be able to relieve it. You don’t have to make her feel better. Just be present.
Accept that you don’t truly understand what she’s going through. Accept that you can’t solve her problem. She doesn’t need a fix. At this moment, she likely doesn’t need grand theological answers to life’s questions. What she needs is someone to care and be with her in her trial. Listen well.
Pray with her and as appropriate, say what will steady her to help her make immediate decisions more wisely than her emotions might tempt her to do.
Church leader, be there. If this mom belongs to a church, her pastor and/or another leader need to be there to listen, pray with her, and perhaps give steadying counsel. If she agrees, a godly woman in the church can be appointed to stay with her for the day, field calls, or contact her every day that first week.
Remind her that God is in control, loves her, and that she can trust Him. Appearances would indicate that her world is wildly reeling so it is important that she know that God is in control. “His sovereignty rules over all,” even calamities (Ps 103:19b).
She also needs to know that the God who is in control isn’t a cruel tyrant fomenting evil. God is good, compassionate, and gracious (Ex 34:6-7). In the Bible He has kindly written for us all the counsel she needs for how to handle grief, emotional pain, and every difficult situation she will face in weeks ahead. He gives grace to trust Him even in our weakness.
To the Christian Mom
I am aware that your pain is wrenching, excruciating, possibly disabling at first. Maybe those words don’t even do it justice and you would describe it differently. Even though this catastrophic experience has changed you forever from what you were yesterday God has not changed. He is still as loving and powerful as He always has been, and still as worthy of worship. I encourage you to follow the example of Job who though he tore his robe in grief still bowed in worship (Job 1:20). Spend time in praise as soon as possible, even simultaneous with your grief. If you can’t think straight, pray the words of praise psalms like Psalms 145, 90, or 33. Make some time to love Christ with worship.
I’m not advising anyone to tell you to do this, although the loving friend may find the right moment and words to invite you. Essentially, it has to come from your own heart. I simply encourage you, regardless of your circumstance, to love the Savior who sacrificed Himself for you.
 Sandy Banks, In Santa Clarita, grace, not anger, fuels the healing process, Nov 19, 2019 (Accessed Nov 19, 2019).