I remember the day when my husband Danny and I adopted Samantha. It was a joyous, sunny day in July. You see, Danny and I already had a child of our own, Grace, who was merely one year younger than Samantha. Danny and I had tried for a while to have another baby after we had Grace, but we were never successful.That’s why we decided to pursue adoption. When we met Samantha we instantly fell in love with her; therefore, it was natural that we adopted her. She was only four at the time.
It was obvious Samantha had been deprived of affection in her early stages of life, you could tell by the way she always wanted to be the main attraction; always wanted to be the child that got the most attention. In fact, she would do anything to stand out from her sister. I suppose that was typical of a child who hadn’t been exposed to much love when she was younger… I thought maybe that was why Samantha could be so mean and nasty to her younger sister. She was always pinching Grace and pulling her hair, doing anything in her power to make Grace scream or cry. I dismissed the behaviors figuring this was just a phase, and that she would eventually grow tired of constantly tormenting her sister. But there was a small part of me that worried because each time Samantha hurt Grace, she would smile… and she didn’t mind being punished, it was almost as if she liked it.
She was ten when I found it… a notebook full of drawings- there were all sorts of weapons: knives, crossbows, pistols, … the list went on and on. And although finding the drawings of weapons was discomforting, as I continued to flip through the pages I found even more disturbing images: pictures of dead animals, frogs missing legs, and mice without heads, but perhaps the worst was an image of a small girl leaning over what looked to be a dead cat missing an eye, laying in a pool of blood.
Jen: “Umm... Samantha, love, what is this?”
Samantha: “It’s my special book.”
Jen: “So, um.. why are there drawings of weapons and dead animals in here?”
Samantha: “Because I want the world to myself, so I made a book on how to do that.
Jen: “How do you know about these things?”
Samantha: “I practice on my stuffed animals, it makes me happy.”
Jen: “Why does it make you feel happy?”
Samantha: “Because I’m going to do it someday.”
I was mortified. When Danny got home that evening I immediately pulled him into the kitchen and told him about what I had discovered. He and I both decided to consult doctors: psychiatrists, therapists, anyone who we thought could help explain to us why Samantha might be feeling this way… but they all told us the same thing: “Samantha is just fine, she will grow out of this. This is just a problem of delayed empathy Think of the things she could’ve gone through before you adopted her. Give her more love, more hug, take her to fun places, make her feel special and wanted. These things will help, but in the meantime, we can get her on a medication that should help the process along.”
The medication provided temporary relief, and for a few weeks, it seemed to be working. It wasn’t until one bitter day in December that I realized Samantha was not getting better. I was driving along a winding road, heading home from getting groceries with Samantha and Grace. They were sitting in the back seat, seeming to be getting along, just fine, when, suddenly, I heard struggles coming from the back. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw Samantha choking Grace.
Jen: “Samantha! Samantha stop it! Stop it! You’re hurting Grace!”
Reluctantly she stopped. When she finally released Grace, pulling her hands slowly away, I could see fingerprints imprinted on Grace’s throat. I pulled over and separated the two, putting Grace in the front seat next to me. She sobbed quietly to herself but seemed to be okay. When we were 5 blocks from home I looked in the mirror again at Samantha; she was sitting there silently, looking out the window, smiling like she was the happiest child in the world. Once we were home I told Grace to go play in her room and immediately pulled Samantha aside.
Jen: “What do you think you were doing?”
Samantha: “I was choking her.”
Jen: “But why?”
Samantha: “Because I wanted to see what it was like.”
Jen: “What what was like? Do you realize that you could have killed Grace? She couldn’t breathe. You were killing her. She would have died!”
Samantha: “I know. I wanted to kill her.”
I sat up late that night on my laptop, searching the internet for a diagnosis that matched the behaviors of Samantha. I was half researching and half pacing back and forth, I was too ancy to stay still. I kept making sure Samantha didn’t try to sneak out of her room. I was too scared to sleep; I was scared that Samantha would try to hurt Grace again. Night after night I would pace the floor, back and forth, quietly, constantly, checking on the girls. I went several weeks without rest. I read and read, trying to find something, anything that could help explain why Samantha was so different. After several weeks, I finally found one condition that maybe seemed to fit Samantha’s behaviors- but it was a diagnosis that all the other doctors had dismissed. And now finding what Samantha could possibly be suffering from Danny and I were afraid.
We made the decision to take Samantha to a psychiatrist in New York City. Two months later we were sitting in the office of supposedly the best children’s psychiatrist in the world: Dr. Jason Clarke.
Doctor: “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, lovely to meet you, so I’ve spent a while talking to your daughter, Samantha, today and I’ve noticed some, um, red flags. From what I understand, Samantha had an incident where she tried to, um, choke her younger sister. Is that correct?”
Jen: “Yes, that’s right.”
Doctor: “And this was the first real act of violence that she had displayed, correct? Is there anything else she does? Maybe just little things you have noticed that were strange, perhaps, you thought even that they were not normal?”
Jen: “Well, she’s always pinching Grace or pulling her hair. Sometimes she will shove Grace. You know, do anything to make Grace cry. I guess it wasn’t until I found the notebook with all of the drawings of weapons and.. Umm.. dead things that I became truly worried that something might not be quite right. We took Samantha to several doctors and two psychiatrists with good reputations that lived within our area, but they all dismissed this as a phase that she would grow out of.”
Doctor: “I see. Well, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, I am very sorry to tell you this, but, in my professional opinion, Samantha will not grow out of this. In the children’s mental-health world, what Samantha has is pretty much a terminal diagnosis, except she is not dying. Samantha has what we call- Conduct Disorder.”
Jen:“What does that even mean?”
Doctor: “Mrs. Johnson, Samantha has all the characteristics of a budding psychopath.”
I could hear Dr. Clarke talking, but I didn’t understand what he was saying. I looked over at Danny… he was shaking his head, a tear ran down his face. Doctor Clarke’s words were the background noise to my world that had just come crashing down.
Doctor: “Now, there are various things that can happen from here, you can choose to admit Samantha into a psychiatric care facility, we can put her on medication that might help but only for a little while, or you can take her home and do nothing- which I strongly advise against. If you choose to admit her, I can give you the numbers of several exceptional care facilities in your area.”
Jen: “I… uh… I don’t know. Danny, what do you think?”
Danny: Well, I want to take her home, at least for now. Talk this over as a family. But we’ll gladly take those numbers, please.
Jen: Thank you for your time, doctor.”
We were home within two days time. It was a Thursday night and I made dinner like I always do. I chose to make spaghetti, Samantha’s favorite food. I figured making her favorite food would put her in better spirits before we discussed the main issue.
Jen: “How was your day Samantha?”
Danny: “Samantha, honey, we have something important to discuss.
Jen: You have a sickness, love, and this sickness, well, it makes you want to do bad things. Your father and I want to take you somewhere so they can help you get better.”
Danny: “Honey, this isn’t for you to decide. It’s what's best for you."
Jen: If you get better, you can come back home.”
Samantha: “I said, NO! NO NO NO NO!!!”
It all happened so fast. Samantha was jumping to her feet, yelling at us.
Samantha: “I won’t go! I won’t. You’re just doing this because you hate me. YOU love Grace more than me.”
I was trying to calm Samantha down, telling her everything would be alright.
Jen: Samantha, love, we love you both just the same. Everything is going to be okay. We just need to help you get better.
That was when Grace started to scream. Samantha had taken her fork and was stabbing it into Grace’s leg repeatedly.
Jen: “Samantha, Samantha stop!!!”
Blood was everywhere… gushing from the wounds, pooling onto the hardwood floor beneath the table. Everything after that happened in slow motion. Danny tore Samantha off of Grace, and I rushed to Grace’s side. There was so much blood; I didn’t know what to do. I grabbed a towel off of the kitchen counter and tied it around Grace’s leg. Picking her up and placing her in the car, I rushed her to the Emergency Room. Danny said he would meet us there once Samantha had calmed down. I sped towards the hospital, blowing through stop signs and stop lights. But it was too late. Samantha had stabbed Grace three times in the femoral artery. Grace was barely breathing when we arrived. I scooped Grace up and rushed toward the Emergency Room doors. I ran all the way to the nurse’s station clasping Grace in my arms.
Nurse: “Ma’am, what happened?!”
Jen: “I… I… it happened all so fast. But, Grace, my daughter, she, she needs help! She… she’s dying. You have to help me.”
As the nurse took Grace from my arms, a cold chill settled over my body. I heard the ER’s doors slide open. I looked back and saw Samantha with Danny. Samantha was smiling, grinning ear to ear, with blood splattered all over her clothes.That is when it finally dawned on me… my daughter was a psychopath.