Late editions of Sunday's Washington Post carried news of the discovery of six bodies in a house near Camp Springs. In the same paper was a report by staff writers Ron Shaffer and Athelia Knight about the murders of children in Atlanta and Washington.
One unsettling finding in the report by Shaffer and Knight was that since Jan. 1, 1979, as many children were killed in the District of Columbia as in Atlanta.
I was shocked, but as I read on, I learned there were differences between Atlanta's murders and ours.
Atlanta's 26 murders followed a pattern. Victims were strangled and left far from their homes. They were similar in age and youthful appearance. There were no clues.
Washington's 29 murders were different. Their victims covered a much wider range of ages. Most were killed in or near their homes by acquaintances or members of their own families. Death resulted from gunshots, stabbings and even fire. Clues were plentiful. And most of the killers were apprehended rather quickly.
Authorities believe most of Atlanta's murders were committed by one person or by one person plus one or more "copycat" killers. D.C. Police say only one of our cases involved multiple murders -- a fire that led to the deaths of three children. The other 26 children were killed by 26 separate persons.
At first, I was relieved to learn that there has been no pattern of child murder in Washington during this period. We experienced only the "normal" toll that results from accidents, emotional upsets and other crimes of passion that lawyers used to blame on "temporary insanity." But by the time I finished the Shaffer-Knight report, I was as shocked and dismayed as I had been when I first saw the headline over it.
I realized that while the entire country has been heartsick over the Atlanta carnage, a comparable number of children have been murdered in Washington and no doubt elsewhere across the country -- and there has been no outcry. We have come to consider these killings "routine."
Is the killing of 26 children by 26 murderers more acceptable than the killing of 26 children by one murderer? Perhaps, but only in the sense that rational people tremble at the knowledge that a fiend is at large and seems determined to continue his bloody work until he is caught.
But what of the fiend who lies dormant in millions of humans but is capable of surfacing in a moment of stress to become just as deadly as the Atlanta killer? What can we do about the constant danger that "normal" people sometimes lose control?