What drives parents to kill?

The Baltimore Sun

Whatever drove a 41-year-old Rockville man to apparently kill his three young children in an Inner Harbor hotel last weekend may never be fully understood.

But the explanation police say Mark Castillo offered them - that he wanted to punish his exwife - is typical in cases of men killing their children, experts say.

"Most of the time, when men kill children, it's to get back at the women, sort of out of vengeance," said Dr. Neil Blumberg, a longtime forensic psychiatrist in Baltimore who has testified for the defense and prosecution. "Usually they're depressed, they're angry, but this is the way they can hurt their children's mother."

At least three other cases in Maryland over the past year appear to fit this profile: four children killed in a Frederick County townhouse last April, two boys and a girl shot to death in November in a Montgomery County park, and a toddler tossed off a Baltimore County bridge in February.

Though men who kill their children may have an underlying personality disorder, they are usually sufficiently in touch with reality to understand what they are doing, Blumberg said.

Castillo's three young children - Anthony, 6, Austin,4 and Athena, 2 - were found in a room at the Marriott Hotel near Camden Yards on Saturday.

Castillo later told police that he drowned the children in a bathtub in response to a bitter custody battle with his wife, Dr. Amy Castillo, according to court documents. The documents said he told police he had trouble with authority and was diagnosed with narcissitic personalty disorder, a condition that can cause a person to become preoccupied with himself.

On Christmas Day 2006, Castillo alleged in court papers, her husband had threatened to kill their three children as a way of punishing her. The act would leave her alone in the world, she wrote in papers seeking a protective order.

Castillo, who unsuccessfully attempted to kill himself after the children were killed, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and a dozen related charges, including child abuse and assault. He is being held without bail at the Division of Corrections medical facility in downtown Baltimore and was ordered yesterday to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Though they tend to capture headlines, killings of children by their parents are uncommon. According to FBI data for 2006, the most recent data available, 462 of the 14,990 homicides for which an offender was identified fell into this category. Perpetrators are split evently among men and women.

Several other local cases in the past year involved fathers.

In November, David Peter Brockdorff, 40, shot his ex-wife, two boys and daughter before fatally shooting himself at a small park in Howard County. Despite a bitter divorce, Gail Louise Pumphrey of Woodbine had intended to turn the chidren over to Brockdorff so he could spend part of the Thanksgiving holiday with them.

"Kids sometimes get in the middle of struggless that parents are having and become the weapons that parents use to get at each other, sometimes with tragic consequences," said Laura Kiser, a psychologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"This can happen when parents are unable to separate their children from their family conflict."

The circumstances are less clear in the case of a Salvadoran immigrant, 28-year-old Pedro Rodriguez, who killed his four children and then hanged himself in a Frederick townhouse last April.

Acquaintances said Rodriguez and Benitez appeared happy, though they had experienced some problems. Rodriguez had been caught twice for shoplifting and had recently found out that he would lose his job.

In February, Stephen Todd Nelson, 37, of Baltimore, was charged with first-degree murder for allegedly throwing his 3-year-old son off the Key Bridge. He and the child's mother, Natisha Johnson, had battled over custody and visitation issues.

"Obviously, a normal person wouldn't do this," Blumberg said. "But situational factors seem to play a greater role with men who kill their children as opposed to the women," who may be driven by delusions.

Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, said some men who kill their offspring do in a continuing pattern of child abuse.

"In a particular instance, it just goes too far. This is not to say it's true in every case, but that's the typical father who kills a child," he said. "The psychotic father who kills a child is a much less frequent phenomenon than the psychotic mother who kills a child."

While men tend to be driven by anger, often over marital or other personal difficulties, women are more often in the grip of psychotic delusions, experts say.

Mothers who kill their children tend to fall into one of two categories. "Immediately after birth, a mother may kill a newborn in order to hide its existence," Appelbaum said. "Often, that's a young unmarried mother who is in a state of panic and fearful of discovery and takes what seems to her to be the only available option."

On the other hand, mothers who kill older children "typically do so when they are psychotic and out of delusional motivations. They may hear voices, the voice of God commanding them to kill children."jonathan.bor@baltsun.com

An article in yesterday's editions about the mindset of parents who kill their children misspelled the first name of Laurel J. Kiser, a psychologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.The Sun regrets the error.
Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad