Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Letter to the Editor: Part 3: Haven, Jordan and Elijah Halstead - Scott Allen

This is the third letter in a series of four on the September 1999 house fire that claimed the lives of Timothy Halstead, and his three children Haven, Jordan, and Elijah. As mentioned in my previous letters my hope in writing the letters is to remember these precious children and also to help raise awareness of the issues of domestic violence/intimate partner violence, mental health, and substance abuse.

This happened in 1999, well before where we are now with the MeToo movement and the incredibly heightened awareness of mental illness. It’s heartening to know that so many brave women, and even men, are speaking out today against abuse and violence. That hopefully will go a long way towards avoiding senseless deaths down the line, particularly when it involves couples/families. Unfortunately, bad, terrible, and unspeakable things happen to human beings every day. It’s the human condition – it’s unavoidable. We all suffer as adults, but the least we can do is protect children as much as possible from that suffering. Nothing can be done for Jordan, Elijah, Haven, and their father. Those children will never get the justice they deserve, nor will their family. There will never be closure - no silver lining - when something like this happens. Haven Devon Halstead would be 27 years old right now; Jordan Mathias Alexander Halstead, 24; Elijah Murray Halstead, 23. They should all still be with us today, as should so many other innocent women and children lost to senseless violence. Additionally, Timothy Halstead should be with us also. My intent in saying that is not to forgive, honor, or memorialize Tim Halstead, and it is not meant to deflect his culpability or minimize the horrific act; an act I believe he purposely caused. It is only to acknowledge that he needed serious help.

If our kids don’t matter, then nothing else matters. Virtually every decision we make should be influenced by whether it will leave children better off today, tomorrow, next week, next year, and in 50 years. Intimate partner violence (IPV)/domestic violence is a kind of slow drip toxin that slowly but surely contaminates and decimates the body over months and years. Eventually the body fills up though. Without extraordinary - and perhaps at the time impossible - measures, the deaths of Haven, Jordan, Elijah, and Timothy Halstead may not have been preventable. It’s possible that the rage Timothy Halstead felt towards Alyse Alexander was so unbelievably intense (and the extent of which wasn’t fully known by friends or family) that as many stated in the days after the fire, no one thought he’d try to inflict as much pain on Alyse as possible by hurting their children. Perhaps it’s a case of someone in dire need of mental health care suddenly “snapping.” He just snapped the morning of the court date that was only hours away to address reinstatement of a restraining order Alyse had against him (she had previously requested, and the court granted, the restraining order be dropped). Additionally, on the day of the fire, he was to submit to the court written verification that had enrolled in court-ordered weekly anger-management counseling. Based only on what I’ve read, he had no history of abuse or threats towards his children. I don’t have the answers. I’m not a mental health practitioner, a lawyer, family law expert, social worker, or law enforcement officer, and I don’t pretend to be. I won’t be offended if someone who works in one of these professions points out where I may be wrong, am misinterpreting something, or that I’m just plain misinformed. I’m trying to be thoughtful, but I know I will probably fall short.

What I do know is that it’s vital to let someone know if you think someone and/or their children are in a violent situation. It’s probably very uncomfortable to make a claim against someone else and end up being wrong. If you’re a victim, hopefully you have someone you trust with whom you can confide. You don't have to tell the world, but if you tell the right people at least you have an opportunity to get the necessary help. If you know someone who is mentally ill, and you think they may harm themselves or others, tell someone. Silence can be dangerous. In its most nefarious form, silence can be complicity. Silence can also be used to hide shame and embarrassment and/or to avoid accountability. Perhaps all of this writing simply serves as a reminder to me and anyone who reads this that it’s okay to be inquisitive sometimes. Not to purposely cause mental anguish for anyone, of course, but to encourage anyone who knows someone who may be in trouble. Perhaps you, the reader, are in trouble and need help. It might take an outsider to help pull someone/a family out of a volatile situation. We may at times need an advocate to help us out. Advocates might be neighbors, friends, or complete strangers. For anyone who has tried, either successfully or unsuccessfully, to intervene in another family’s problems, it was probably quite uncomfortable to insert yourself into a situation you thought needed addressing or to save someone you thought needed saving. Maybe you told a parent how to raise their child. Maybe you called the police or Child Protective Services. Maybe you confronted someone’s violent ex-partner. Maybe you were right in the end. Maybe you were wrong. Maybe your decision ended a friendship. Maybe your decision to intervene saved a marriage, or improved the lives of children, or even saved a life (or lives). The victim(s) is not at fault for creating the situation, but they may need someone else to help remove them from that situation. It might be hard to know what the right thing to do is. It’s okay to ask for help and to ask if someone else needs help. Maybe everything humanly possible was done by everyone to help and protect this family. Regardless, and almost 20 years later, I still feel compelled to help remind folks of the critical need seek help for yourself or others that are in danger.

“If You See Something, Say Something” is the Department of Homeland Security’s slogan which “engages the public in protecting our homeland through awareness-building, partnerships, and other outreach.” Depending on the source and the criterion used, one’s odds of dying on American soil as the result of a terrorist attack is anywhere from 1 in 1,000,000 to 1 in 20,000,000. Politically motivated terrorism is real, but it is a very distant threat to our everyday lives, especially in Amador County. In contrast, nearly 1 in 4 adult women and approximately 1 in 7 adult men report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – CDC). However, most IPV incidents are never reported. Additionally, the CDC found that from 2003-2014, more than 55 percent of female homicide victims were killed in connection to IPV. Also, per CDC, in 2015, homicide was among the 15 leading causes of death for age groups under 1 year (14th), ages 1–4 (3rd), ages 5–14 (5th). I don’t cite all of this information to try to cause a phrenzy of people snooping on their neighbors or friends to see what they are doing to each other or their children. It is a reminder that IPV is far and away more common than many of the things we typically fear, as well as a reminder to speak up if you think something is wrong. You might have to speak up repeatedly. You may cause discomfort or anger. Amador County does have resources to help people dealing with IPV, mental health issues, drug/alcohol dependency, etc. Reach out to the National Alliance on Mental Health Amador County office, Operation Care, the Amador County Behavioral Health Department, or The Resource Connection, to name a few. Or talk to a friend, a stranger, a colleague, a clergy member - anyone whom you trust. The California Judicial Council has a domestic violence self-help section on its website. I’m surely leaving out other great resources.

Previously reported upon data from the 2018 County Health Status Profile (California Department of Public Health) shows that Amador County had the third highest suicide rate in the state from 2014-2016. While in raw numbers homicides in Amador County are rare, Amador County had the 11th highest homicide rate from 2014-2016. Amador County experienced a double-murder-suicide as recently as April of this year. This is a small community and we need to use the personal connections we have that are lacking in many larger communities to help one another if we think someone or some family may be in trouble. That might not be enough, but we can at least try.

My hope is that this letter, and all of my letters on this issue, can help connect someone with the services they need. I will leave you with one final letter on the matter that I hope will appear soon after this letter.

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