Headline News

Monday's paper included a lot of bad news about the war. But it wasn't on the front page, so I wonder how many people even noticed.

I'm not referring to the war in Iraq.

There's another war fought right here on American soil every day. It's the war of aggression against a defenseless army of innocent soldiers.

It's the war of violence against children.

Monday's headlines included these:

“Mother, young child found beaten to death in home”;

“Police identify bodies found on Lake Michigan shore”;

“Florida couple accused of starving 10-year-old girl”;

and, “Police hold man after Ludington girl missing.”

In clipped accounts of no more than 200 words, I learned the fate of the victims. One says police found a mom and her 3-year-old son dead in their Charleston, Missouri, home, while a 4-year-old boy sustained life-threatening injuries. All three were beaten with a blunt, wooden object.

In Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, the waters of Lake Michigan washed ashore the bodies of a father and two sons, ages six and five, in what looks like a sadistic suicide and double homicide. Apparently, the man tied bags of sand to his sons and himself, then took them into the lake where they were dragged deep under its surface. An investigation continues.

Another story describes the hideous condition of a 10-year-old Brooksville, Florida, girl who weighed 29 pounds when found by police. The story mentions her ongoing starvation and squalid living conditions, and her brother's attempts to sneak food to her three times per week. The couple responsible for her care surrendered to authorities and face charges, though they remain free on bail.

And closer to home, a search was underway for a 12-year-old Ludington, Michigan, girl named Sabrina Dalzell who disappeared over the weekend. Police held an acquaintance of the family in custody and impounded his vehicle.

My paper reports stories like these routinely in its “In Brief” section on page three, an ironic reflection of the life spans of the young victims. The facts come off the wire services. Only those deemed unusual or interesting make the paper. For every story of violence against a child they run, many more are left in the newsroom, unreported, unpublished, unnoticed.

Tuesday, they carried a short, follow-up story about Sabrina. Police found her body in the woods near her home, a location to which the suspect led them. Her school picture ran next to the news of her death, along with the sinister-looking face of the man who allegedly took her life. In a further detail, the story says Sabrina's mother was out from 11:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 a.m. Saturday “socializing,” leaving Sabrina and her brother, age 10, at home.

The fact that a mother left her children alone overnight to “socialize” is infuriating. It's yet another example of an adult who is either too selfish or too ignorant to be a parent. True, simply being home may not have been enough to protect her daughter from a murderer. But then again, maybe it would.

Yet the sad truth is the children whose tragic stories I read in my local paper usually are victimized by the aggression or negligence of their parents, guardians, relatives or the boyfriends or acquaintances of their mothers. And the disturbing reality is these stories aren't even front-page news.

As it is, reports from the front lines in this war against children are only “news briefs.” I suppose a descriptive headline could make them shorter still:

“Girl screams in the night for mom to protect her — nobody's there.”

(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at www.marybethhicks.com.)

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