Is it a crime to raise a killer?
Anthony Pasquale stops to visit his daughter at the Cedar Green Cemetery every morning, then returns once or twice more during the day. He sits on the small white bench and faces the polished granite headstone, etched with a hologram of Autumn on one side and the things she loved on the other — bicycles, soccer balls, cheerleading, skateboards. From where he sits he can see the middle school, where his 12-year-old girl was a student, and next to that the high school, where the 15-year-old boy who killed her was one, too. When school is in session, Pasquale has even glimpsed a classmate peering out of the ground-floor science-lab windows, which look directly onto Autumn’s grave.
It has been nearly two years since Autumn went missing and Justin Robinson went to jail, pleading guilty to strangling her after she stopped by his house to trade parts for her brand-new bicycle. In that time her parents have learned that the stages of grief now include another step — finding someone to blame. It’s a stage well known to parents wrenched by a particular kind of loss, a kind arguably more common and certainly more public of late — losing children at the hands of other children. And it is raising questions with few answers in the existing legal system.
“Where were their parents?” grieving families asked after Columbine and Newtown, after Isla Vista and Troutdale.
“Where were the parents?” asks Anthony Pasquale, sitting in the back booth of the Liberty Diner in Clayton, where his coffee is on the house now, because, as is the case everywhere else in town, everyone knows who he is. “Parenting comes with responsibilities, and one of those is to raise your kids right, to pay attention and know when they’re a danger to someone else. That’s a parent’s job.”
To fail at that job is a crime, he believes. He’s recently taken his certainty to court, suing Justin Robinson’s parents for, essentially, being bad parents. He has also turned to Change.org and the New Jersey Legislature, advocating for “Autumn’s Law,” which would punish such parenting with prison.
I feel terrible for Mr Pasquale but just as seeing his daughter’s killer go to jail hasn’t brought any comfort I doubt winning his lawsuit or getting this law passed will.