June 16, 2008

Man Beats Infant to Death: "Demons Were in the Boy"

A horrific story is developing out of a rural section of California. A man in Turlock, in rural Stanislaus County, pulled his truck to the side of the road, took an infant from the passenger seat, and proceeded to beat and stomp the child to death even as onlookers attempted to intervene. In the end, police officers shot the man to death, but not before he beat the toddler literally to a pulp. Officials will attempt to identify the child based on DNA and are not releasing the name of the man and his relationship to the child.

The story is made just a little bit more awful (as if anything could) by a statement made by the man to the effect that he thought the child was possessed.

Officer kills man who beat toddler to death
Witnesses couldn't stop roadside attack

Dana Hull and Kelli Phillips, Bay Area News Group

As eyewitnesses watched in horror, a 27-year-old Turlock man punched and stomped a toddler to death on a darkened country road Saturday night in Stanislaus County before a police officer shot and killed the attacker.

Eyewitnesses tried to stop the man, who swung and slammed the child into the asphalt behind his parked four-door Toyota pickup.

Investigators spent Father's Day trying to understand and cope with the savage attack on Bradbury Road, 10 miles west of Turlock near cow pastures and dairy farms...

Robinson jumped from his vehicle and confronted the man, who lunged at him. Robinson said the man wasn't screaming and wasn't loud, but was forceful, saying "demons" were in the boy.

"Give me the knife. Give me the knife," the man said as he grabbed for a pen in the fireman's front pocket.

"There was a total hollowness in his eyes," Robinson said, "like I could see right through to the back of his head..."

The man ripped the child out of a car seat in the back of a pickup truck, threw him to the ground and kicked and stomped him against the pavement, witnesses told deputies. At least three people yelled at the man and attempted to pull him off the boy, but were brushed back by the attacker.

Coroner's deputies believe they know the boy's name, but "due to the severity of his injuries making a visual identification is nearly impossible," Singh said...
A second report on this incident also makes mention of a possible religious connection:
Isabelle Thomas, who lives a few hundred yards from the scene, was working at Emanuel Medical Center, a nurse in the surgical unit, when her son called her with word something bad had happened. Soon she heard of the little boy who died 500 yards from her front door.

"I couldn't go to sleep. I couldn't rest without seeing it and all that blood. I couldn't believe all that blood," she said.

Sunday morning, she watched a tow truck haul away the pickup. The inside cab, she said, was smeared with blood. A rosary swung from the rearview mirror...

— Michael Shea, The Modesto Bee

For those of us who embrace rationality and reject the notion of supernatural agency in this incident, the most likely scenario for such a brutal event is that the perpetrator was delusional and the child an innocent victim. No demons were involved whatsoever for the simple reason that there are no such thing as demons. It's an all-too-human horror, a very material tragedy, likely brought on by some profound mental disorder. When the identity of the man in the truck is revealed I fully expect that it will be accompanied by a revelation of previous acts of violence and treatment for a psychopathological condition.

On the other hand, there are also people who see in this evidence for demonic possession — of the perpetrator. In comments on this story appearing on The Modesto Bee website, an author using the ID "cling2Christ" states:
The Last Days

This is horrible, and Jesus warned us that as "the day" approaches, things will only get worse and worse until the end comes. This man thought the baby had demons, the article says, but in fact, most likely the man himself was demon possesed. "This know also that in the last days perilous times will come. For man shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, WITHOUT NATURAL LOVE, UNFORGIVING, slanderers, WITHOUT SELF CONTROL, BRUTAL, despisers of those that are good, traitors, HEADSTRONG, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God." 2Timothy 3:1-4
cling2Christ wrote that comment just before 1 AM. In the five hours between that time and the time I write this entry five reviewers have rated the comment, all of them giving it a 5 out of 5 — an indication that they are in agreement with cling2Christ's assertion of demonic involvement. Cling2Christ has no more evidence that the perpetrator was possessed than the perpetrator had that the infant was "full of demons" and is no more rational than the perpetrator himself.

After all, we've been told recently by a Catholic church official who has himself performed over 70,000 exorcisms that "Everybody is vulnerable to the work of Satan." In light of statements like this one by Gabriele Amorth and that made by cling2Christ, could it be said that the infant wasn't possessed by demons once we'd accepted the premises put forward by them? Perhaps the infant, the man in the truck and the officer who shot him were all possessed. Perhaps it's all some Satanic conspiracy to shock us all. I certainly feel a bit like screaming and drawing my limbs into my body like a tortoise draws its limbs into its shell after reading about this. Once supernatural, untestable factors are thrown into the mix, things for which we can't hope to find empirical evidence (I think with very good reason), we can say anything and determine nothing.

Perhaps in the end the thing that separates Amorth and cling2Christ from the lunatic in the truck in Turlock isn't reason — none of the three are rational — but a propensity toward carrying out violence. Not all delusional people are violent and not all violent people are delusional. When the delusion is demonic possession and the like, though, they all bring a little more fear into the world to pile on top of the occasional real terrors it already holds.

I see no reason to believe that demons exist at all, that supernatural entities are vying for metaphysical things like souls, or that brutality occurs due to anything other than the actions of violent people. It's a position that I'll continue to hold until somebody can show me a soul or a demon or even reasonable evidence based upon which one could logically infer that such things exist.

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