A few days after Esmie Tseng was arrested for the murder of her mother, Jacob read a letter in the Kansas City Star that spurred him into action.
A call for compassion
I applaud the Aug. 24th column by Mary Novaria (Blue Valley/Leawood Neighborhood News). I, too, am the mother of a 16-year-old student at Blue Valley North. Like Ms. Novaria and other parents and members of our community, I am shocked and saddened by the death of Shu Yi Zhang. My heart goes out to Tao Tseng, whose terrible loss of course extends beyond the death of his wife.
I share Ms. Novaria's concern and anguish for Esmie Tseng's classmates and friends - young people who now must grapple with a reality far too horrific for kids of their age and innocence to comprehend. Perhaps most of all, my heart breaks for Esmie, who I believe, despite her actions, must also be seen as a victim. I also believe that if we are to make any sense of this at all, we must look beyond the obvious and awful facts and carefully consider Esmie's mental state leading up to Aug. 19.
Clearly, no sane child stabs a parent to death. I think if we look at Esmie's life before Aug. 19, we'll see that Esmie is a very sick child who was screaming out for help. One plea was her apparent break from reality during the summer incident at the synagogue, and other cries for help were her desperate Web log entries in which she spoke of her depression, fear and
despair. Her final and perhaps most telling cry was her odd behavior at school on the day of the stabbing. As we wonder how Esmie could do such a horrible thing, there are a few other "whys" we must address. Why did no one see this child's state of mind and intervene? Why, if anyone noticed, did they remain silent? Why didn't her own parents see how troubled their daughter had become? I fear that we in this intelligent, educated and privileged community have failed Esmie horribly, by not hearing her cries for help and responding.
The district attorney intends to try Esmie as an adult. But clearly this 16-year-old girl is not an adult. Any parent of a teenager knows how truly far from adulthood even the most precocious 16-year-old is. Because there were multiple stab wounds, premeditation is assumed. But doesn't a prolonged attack suggest (as do so many other factors) that this kid was out of her mind, literally? Does the likelihood that she was psychotic somehow make her an adult? Can't an adolescent break with reality, too, and still be an adolescent?
Esmie has no history of violence or misbehavior of any type. Esmie is not a monster nor a cold-blooded killer. Esmie is a child of our village, and she deserves our compassion and our help. If the laws insist upon destroying what is left of Esmie Tseng by locking her up for life, we should be both ashamed and afraid. Ashamed of our failure to hear her and help, and afraid for our and our children's future in an uncompassionate, unseeing and vengeful world.
After reading this, Jacob looked up Diane's number and called her. He soon discovered that there were many parents who felt similarly, and that they were coalescing around Esmie, trying to figure out how they might persuade the district attorney to take a more "compassionate" course in this case. Jacob quickly surmised that the group had little computer savvy, and that they would need to accomplish their task, so he offered to help.
Jacob's a little uncomfortable with my writing about him. As I was on my way out of Olathe yesterday, stopped at a stoplight near the courthouse, Jacob spotted me and approached my car. We talked for a moment through my open window. He said repeatedly that he didn't want a story about him, for the focus to all be on him. The story, he insisted, is about the system.
And I agree, but I'm telling this story here -- focusing on him as a character, if you will -- because I think it'll help people relate to the drive to become involved with a case such as this. In particular for a person who, like me, has never met Esmie.
Jacob has written me several e-mails. His most recent contained a number of moving comments by parents and teens who are friends with Esmie, which I'll share here over the next several days. But I was most struck by Jacob's explanation as to why he's so engrossed in this case, because they remind me a lot of myself, and my own activism as a member of what is, at least at first glance, a very different community in Kansas City.
More importantly, I see universal themes in these comments, and so they're valuable, I think, to the growing readership of this blog. There's an implied challenge in them, and it's a challenge I'd like more people to consider.
Tomorrow I'd like to share these comments with you...