A murdered child, a guilty teen, ‘Dexter’ and a very real hell

One of the big ideas of this website, oft repeated in a variety of wordings, is that if journalists want to understand real events in the real lives of real people in the real world, then — more often than not — they are going have to wrestle with very real religious issues. At some point, journalists have to take religion seriously and let people talk about the religious beliefs that help shape their actions in life.

The following story from South Louisiana — care of FelicianaToday.com (and an obvious hat tip to Rod Dreher) — is a perfect example of what we’re talking about.

This is a crime story about an irrational, hellish act of violence in which a teen-aged boy, inspired by hours of watching serial killers in pop culture (especially the cable-TV show “Dexter”), decided that slashing the throat of an 8-year-old boy would help him establish a new, powerful sense of evil identity.

Jack Attuso died, but Trevor Reese didn’t feel excited or uplifted after committing the murder. His own personal hell had just begun.

Reese pleaded guilty, to spare both families the pain of a trial. The issue facing the court was whether he would have any chance at parole.

That brings us to the following news report about the hearing, a long, agonizing story in which real people are allowed to say very real and very painful things. There are real curses. There are pleas for redemption. There is a father trying to figure out the sins of his son. There is the looming threat of hell, in this world and the next.

All I can say is this: Read it all, if you dare.

The story starts on a slow boil and the power of the language builds and builds. Here is a sample, after Reese was handed a picture of Jack:

The next witness was Wayne Attuso, Jackson’s grandfather, who gave a victim impact statement. …

Wayne said, “I want you to stare at that picture… because you will see that face when you wake up each morning, at times during the day, and before you go to sleep for the rest of your life. This is the curse that I put on you. You knew nothing about Jack. He was a little boy who loved life. We called him Smiling Jack because he went to bed each night with a smile on his face and he woke up each morning with that same smile. Every day was an adventure for him. The devastation you caused my family will heal eventually, but a scar will always be there. The hole you created in our hearts is filled with all the wonderful memories we have of Jack. In the weeks following Jacks death, I was insane with hatred. I never knew I was capable of the kind of hatred I had for you. Since then I’ve come to my senses and I don’t hate you anymore, but I will never forgive you. That’s not my job. That belongs to someone other than me. After today, I will close the chapter on you. You will not exist in our family’s world. It is my hope that if you ever do leave prison, it will be feet first in a pine box.”

That literal curse would surface again, later in the hearing. Yes, there’s more, as Reese unfolds his story and tries to apologize:

“The second it happened, I wanted to take it back. I know I’m not a serial killer. I know I’m not really that kind of person. I know myself better now. I couldn’t do it again. I can’t hurt another family. I can’t hurt my family again,” said Reese.

“I’d kill myself to bring him back. I wish I were dead. Now I pray a lot. I just want to start my time and try to be normal. Sane. I don’t know what to do now. It’s too much. It’s too big. It’s twisted up and crazy. I don’t know how I could do this. It wasn’t me. I killed your son and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” said Reese.

Jackson’s grandmother, who was sitting in a full row of family members, blurted out, “Look at us when you speak!” …

Reese looked at the family and said, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’d do anything to take it back.”

He looked down at his feet and continued, “I hope God helps you somehow because there is nothing more I can do. The only thing that makes it better is knowing that he is in heaven. I should be in hell.” … I should have just killed myself before I hurt him. I don’t know if I have anything that I could contribute [to society] I just know I want to be better. I just want to be a good Christian where I can face God,” said Reese.

And what did Reese’s father say? Fathers who read this, you’re going to need to find a box of tissues:

“What happened was wrong. The death of an innocent child was senseless. For that wrong, my family is sorry for all the pain and suffering it caused. I wish I had an answer to make sense of all of this, but I don’t. That day is just so bizarre and unreal. As a father, it’s my responsibility to raise my son. He’s still my boy. I failed my son. Everyone tells me that Trevor did this in spite of the way I raised him, not because of it. I understand that, but the guilt and shame will never to away,” said Derek.

“Wayne, I accept your curse. I’m the dad. He’s my son. It’s my responsibility. We are so ashamed,” he said.

Derek said, “We really expected to be treated as pariahs, outcasts, monsters, and horrible parents, but we weren’t. That’s a sign that there is still hope and that the world is a good place. It’s not fair for me to ask, but I am asking for just a little bit of hope. I don’t want this to be the last chapter in Trevor’s life. Who knows how he will change and what he will learn over the next years. I don’t know what God will make of this son of mine.”

It’s all about the voices. It’s all about the shattered lives and the beliefs that refuse to die. It’s real.

The story just lets the people talk. I cannot imagine any other way to have handled coverage of this event.

Try to read it all.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • FW Ken

    An amazing read. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a story with that much direct quotation, but it flows together beautifully. I will say that the god-talk left me wondering what tradition or affiliation lay in the family’s background.

    And if you don’t know, Angola prison is a miserable, violent, hot place. Hell, one is tempted to say.


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