I had to read the headline a second time and the story itself three times before it began to penetrate my consciousness, like Burgundy wine from a spilled glass that floods a white linen tablecloth and then soaks into the core of every fibril – ensuring a stain that will resist the obliterating power of everything but chlorine bleach. And so it happens that in an age characterized by cynicism and gracelessness, one can only place what little hope remains in the cleansing power of a Deity whose sense of justice and proportion transcends any our feeble minds can construct – much less comprehend.
A 7-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and other disabilities including not being able to speak was decapitated, and his biological father has confessed to the killing, police in Thibodaux, Louisiana, said Monday.
The child’s head was found Sunday by the side of a city street, detective Ricky Ross said.
“We received the call about 12:14 p.m. on Sunday from a volunteer firefighter who was driving by and found a head by itself on the side of the city street,” Ross said. When officers arrived, they were not sure whether the head was real, Ross said.
“When police arrived, 30-year-old Jeremiah Lee Wright was standing on the porch and told police it was a CPR dummy and it was just a joke.”
“After additional officers arrived, Wright was taken into custody for questioning and during the questioning he confessed to the crime,” Ross said.
He added that investigators found a white garbage bag nearby with the child’s body inside. While police were on the scene, the child’s mother, who said she had been running errands, arrived to find her house surrounded by yellow crime-scene tape. The mother identified the child from pictures as her son, 7-year-old Jori Liritte, Thibodaux Police Chief Scott Silverii said.
“The child had cerebral palsy and was bound to a wheelchair (and also had) additional disabilities,” Silverii said. “He also required a feeding tube and he wasn’t able to speak verbally.”
The chief said Wright confessed to decapitating the child and was charged with first-degree murder, and investigators recovered a hacksaw that they believe was the murder weapon.
“During the interview Wright said he was taking care of (the child) for so many years and he just started to look at him as no longer his son, just an inanimate object,” Silverii said. “He and the child’s mother had some issues. And he purposely put the child’s head in a position for her to see it.”
The better angels of my Christian nature don’t hesitate to gather in chorus and chant in polyphonic unison that there is so much we don’t know about the details of this particular hideousness. What drove Wright to saw off his own son’s head? Was this an act of premeditated evil, committed for the sake of its own perverse joy, or was something deeper and more pathological responsible for pulling the metaphorical trigger? I don’t know – and the better angels don’t hesitate to remind me that I don’t know.
But the better angels are not alone and they often jostle for studio time with the darker angels, whose voices I must admit, have a pitch and timbre much softer and therefore much more seductive. No surprise there: as C.S. Lewis astutely observed in the fictitious person of the demonic Screwtape, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Much like the Syrens who very nearly destroyed Odysseus and his men, the darker angels beckon us to seemingly soft, sandy shores that in reality are jagged, coral shoals. It comforts us to leap to conclusions, because we are spared the sweat of sifting through piles of facts and data; in so doing, we avoid the pain of reconsidering long-held prejudices or quasi-dogmas, because the price that must be paid by our own egos – as we are obliged to admit “mea maxima culpa” in a hushed murmur – is a sharp coin few are willing to surrender, even as the fragile wooden hull of our good intentions is shattered on the coral shoal off the Island of the Syrens.
My first instinct – in dutiful obedience to the soothing alto soprano croon of a shadowy angelic quartet – is to drag this sonofabitch out of his jail cell and hang his redneck ass from the nearest lamp post. Fortunately, the better angels can also sing: let this matter go to trial and let us determine if Jeremiah Lee Wright is a prisoner of dementia or the guest of honor at an egomania dinner party for one.
If the former, let him spend the rest of his life in a rubber room.
If the latter, hang his redneck ass from the nearest lamp post.