Pauline Harte

How really safe are our children?

Pauline Harte · April 22, 1997

It seems that the fickle finger of fate has found the Santa Clarita Valley. It seems that our children can be brutally murdered right here in one of the safest cities in the good old U.S. of A., in a church parking lot, no less!

Usually, that fickle finger keeps itself steadily pointing in the direction of those troublesome inner cities and crime-ridden neighborhoods that are light-years away from the Santa Clarita Valley. We sympathize with our distant neighbors' onerous problems, and we shake our heads in outrage over the endless parade of their heart-breaking funerals. And then we turn away and congratulate ourselves on our remarkable foresight at having picked the safe and secure Santa Clarita Valley to pound in those homestead stakes. We turn from a world of steaming turmoil and smile. We are safe here, in Mayberry.

Michael Barnett's short life was savagely ended on an early Sunday morning in the parking lot of Grace Baptist Church, at a place of God. A place of love. And in fear and shock, we are all asking the same question: How could this happen HERE? We shake the sand from our heads and face the terrifying truth. Our children can be brutally murdered in our safe hideaway, in our Santa Clarita Valley. No, we're not in Mayberry and more.

Michael was just beginning his adult life after graduating from Hart High last June. It takes a lot of work to get a child that far. But for most of us parents, it is a labor of love, of joy. And as we watch our children reach out for that high school diploma swathed in an aura of promise and achievement, our hearts fairly burst with pride. Our arms remember the tiny bundle we first cradled, and we don't understand how this happened so fast.

On that day our children become adults, and we try to fool ourselves into believing that we can worry a little less now, now that our children are "taking wing." We know that it is time to cut the cord and stand back. It is the most difficult thing that we will ever do as parents.

A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of a friend's child, a child who had just begun to spread her new wings of promise and achievement. It is a heart-wounding, emotionally shocking experience to look down on the face of a child you have watched grow up and see that young face resting on a satin pillow. There are no words that can describe how horrible it is to watch bereaved parents descending into a bottomless, black pit of grief and agony. Could hell be any worse than this?

But when a child has been brutally and senselessly murdered like Michael Barnett, the shock is just too stunning. No, hell couldn't be any worse than this.

Where can we go to keep our children safe? Every night on the news we watch sobbing parents slump under burdens of naked grief, while burying their murdered children. These grisly, gut-wrenching newscasts have become too commonplace.

But Michael's death is more than one more bulletin on the 6 o'clock news. Michael was one of our own, and he was murdered HERE. Any one of our children could have met Michael's fate. How REALLY safe are our children when they ride their bikes, or roller skate, or skateboard up to the 7-Eleven for a Slurpee?

Michael could have been your child, or my child.

It's time to wipe the film from our eyes. There is no Mayberry. It doesn't exist. The Santa Clarita Valley is not a sleepy, idyllic haven any more.

And I have to ask myself: Was it ever? Or was I just kidding myself? Because children never get murdered in Mayberry, I guess I wanted to believe that children never get murdered in this valley, either.

Dear God, how could this happen HERE?

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