In Maryland’s summer of rage, three little girls are lost


Neighbor Charmaine Rawlinson left a note and flowers Monday at the home belonging to the mother of 3-year-old Laila Miller, who police say was killed by her father Saturday. “We are praying for them,” Rawlinson said. (Yue Wu/The Washington Post)
Petula Dvorak
Columnist August 18, 2014

Three men. Three explosions of rage. And three dead girls, each just 3 years old.

This is what August has been like in Maryland. And folks have had enough.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

“Really, I think we have to acknowledge sort of an inconvenient truth,” said Mel Franklin, chairman of the Prince George’s County Council, who is also the father of a 3-year-old girl. “Far too many of our residents, far too many of our families, cannot resolve their problems without resorting to physical and emotional violence.”

The deadly month for Maryland’s toddler girls began on the first day of August, when 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott was playing on a Baltimore porch on a Friday afternoon. Then someone tried to settle an argument with gunfire, blasting away until one of his bullets hit the little girl. The angry shooter is still at large.

Something similar happened Aug. 10, this time in Prince George’s. Knijah Bibb was playing in her bedroom in Landover when two men staying in the house began fighting. “He’s wearing my clothes!” one of the enraged combatants allegedly yelled before pulling out a gun. Only one bullet hit someone — little Knijah — who died that day. Police are still looking for 25-year-old Davon Antwan Wallace, the alleged gangsta wannabe who skipped town and went into hiding.

On Saturday, a third bout of fury took the life of another 3-year-old with soft cheeks, a sweet smile and bouncy braids.

Police said Frederick Miller, a 38-year-old Marine Corps veteran, was locked in a years-long custody battle over his daughter, Laila Miller.

He shot the girl’s maternal grandfather and great-grandmother, then shot his child at close range and slit her throat before he drove off — her corpse in the back seat — and had a gun battle with police that ended with his death.

On Monday morning, it was hard to make sense of all this. 

Lethal domestic violence has a pernicious hold in Prince George’s, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said during a news conference of local officials and faith leaders on the otherwise quiet block where Laila died. While the rest of the county’s crime creeps downward, domestic violence attacks remain the same.

The news conference was organized by a visibly frustrated state’s attorney, who got her start as a domestic violence prosecutor and is stymied by the lack of solutions her office can offer.

“This press conference this morning is not taking place at a courthouse, it is not in front of a police station because we recognize this is not a law enforcement issue, this is a family and community issue,” said Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks.

She had pastors and counselors on hand who spoke to the men in their community. Too many are perpetrators of domestic violence, rather than the protectors of their families.

“I get it. Many men, we’re stuck, we’re stuck in a chapter that’s not working for us,” said Johnny Parker, a counselor at First Baptist Church in Glenarden and the former chaplain for the Redskins. He’s used to coaxing solutions from tough guys who lock up when things go wrong.

“We’re stuck in not knowing how to process our emotions, how to have healthy relationships,” he said.

He called for the men of Maryland to turn the page, to write a new chapter.

But counseling isn’t always an easy answer to all the unfocused fury out there. Could it have saved McKenzie, on the porch in Baltimore? Or Knijah, who was killed by being in the middle of a childish fight between grown men?

These explosions of violence are things that lie deep, that burst to the surface when people are no longer in command of their emotions.

Could rage be at the root of what we are witnessing in Missouri? Was Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown six times on an August afternoon, on a rampage? Are the looters ravaging the small town now acting on anger that’s been building for years?

“We live in tough times. People are really stressed,” Alsobrooks guessed about why she’s seeing violent acts “just explode” in her county. But we can’t let rage have the final word, especially when it is taking the lives of children.

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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