EAGLE COUNTY — By all accounts, the 13-year-old boy charged with murdering his father was a nice kid. His father, Joseph Kelly, was likable too.
So what possesses a kid to pick up a .22-caliber rifle and pump two rounds into his father’s head?
“We don’t know, and we may never know,” said Dr. Randy Simmonds, one of the half dozen counselors working with the boy’s schoolmates and their parents.
Simmonds is clinical director and counselor at the Samaritan Counseling Center. He sees lots of unexplained behavior and says there’s no explanation for this, either.
“There’s so much we don’t know about this case, about what happened or why. The reality is that we may never know,” Simmonds said.
YOU COULDN’T KNOW
Listening to kids and parents, Simmonds and the other counselors heard them say over and over that they should have known.
“No, you really should not have,” Simmonds said. “It’s not fair to make inferences today based on information you may have gotten weeks or months ago. You could not know a few weeks or months ago that this might happen. You can’t hold yourself responsible.”
Joseph Kelly, 50, was a nice guy and the son was well liked in school. He wasn’t bullied. He wasn’t isolated.
“Do not try to make wild speculation. People are saying, ‘I heard this or that.’ We don’t have any answers,” Simmonds said. “Everyone is shocked. Nobody saw this coming.”
There are some predictors if people exhibit habitual behaviors, but first-time violent behaviors are much tougher, Simmonds said.
“This didn’t seem to be a case of bullying,” he said. “He was well liked. Kids and teachers liked him.”
It’s a horrific tragedy, but it is one incident, Simmonds said
“We’ve had kids going to school for thousands and thousands of hours each year, and they’ve been safe,” Simmonds said. “There seems to be no other threat. This was not like Columbine. We were trying to reassure kids and parents that they’re safe.”
BE WATCHFUL, PRAYERFUL
What we can do is be watchful, compassionate and prayerful, said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, of the Archdiocese of Denver.
“No amount of words can take away the shock and grief we experience when we are faced with the evil of murder,” Aquila said. “The only adequate response any of us can offer to those who are impacted by this tragedy is to bring them the forgiveness and mercy of Christ, to reassure them that they are cared for and pray with them. We also must pray for the young boy who is suspected of this crime as well as the repose of the soul of his father and for his entire family.”
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH HIS MIND?
The boy was alone with his father’s body for most of six days.
“One of the things that happens to people who live through something traumatic like that is called disassociation,” Simmonds said. “Your body is there, but your brain goes somewhere else. They just go numb to the circumstances they’re in. This was that kind horrific circumstance.”
Brain size stabilizes at about age 12, but development and neural pathways continue until about age 25. So a 13-year-old’s brain is about halfway developed.
“Kids are not always able to tell you what is going on in their thoughts,” Simmonds said.
The brain’s CEO is the pre-frontal cortex. It controls planning and decision making, impulse control, emotional cues and risk taking.
Research has found that when development is rapid in other areas of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex remains dormant and under construction.
“Sometimes when you ask, ‘What were you thinking?’ The answer is, ‘They weren’t.’”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.