Free-Range Kids

Hot Cars and Halloween Candies Don't Kill Many Kids

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Halloween candy
Tlapunkin / Wikimedia Commons

A grand jury has indicted the Georgia man whose toddler died of heat stroke after being left in the SUV for seven hours in June. Justin Ross Harris, 33, faces charges of murder, child cruelty, and sexual exploitation of a child (not his son, a 16-year-old girl he sexted that same day). Harris could face the death penalty if convicted.

He could also become this generation's Ronald O'Bryan, the man put to death for poisoning his son with a Pixy Stix on Halloween, 1974.

The connection?

Consider this: Harris is alleged to have researched hot car deaths online, as well as child-free living. Presumably the case will be made that he planned to make his son's death look like an accident. Hyperthermia has gotten so much attention in the media, it now seems almost common. While about 30-40 kids die this way each year, or literally one in a million children under age ten, if you watch TV it feels like it's happening right and left. Harris might—only might—have thought: Who's going to question just one more?

Which brings us to Ronald O'Bryan: In January of 1974, O'Bryan took out an insurance policy on both his children. He took out an additional policy a month before Halloween, and yet another policy just a few days before the holiday. What's more, a chemist who testified in court said O'Bryan had been asking him about cyanide.

Add to this the fact O'Bryan was in debt and allegedly about to be fired, and the fact he said that the stranger who had given out the poisoned Pixy Stix only stuck his arm out the door, so no one ever saw his face.

It took the jury less than an hour to convict him. He was put to death by lethal injection.

O'Bryan appears to have believed that so many kids get poisoned on Halloween, who's going to question just one more? But the actual number of kids killed by a stranger's candy on Halloween was, and remains, zero.

If a jury decides that Harris deliberately left his son to die after researching toddler heat stroke, it could be another case of a dad believing that a certain much-discussed type of child tragedy is so common, one more would be just a sad statistic. But the fact is: hyperthermia is not that common, thank goodness. In fact, far more children die after being taken out of cars, in parking lots. We are just so obsessed by the idea that any child waiting in a car is in immediate danger that we have lost all perspective.

free-range-kids

Of course, Harris is innocent until proven guilty, so I don't want to belabor the point. And in fact, if you looked at all the crazy things I Google on a daily basis, you would take me for a pedophile with a squirrel fetish and chocolate chip cookie obsession. An online trail is not a smoking gun.

What's more, throwing in the "sexual exploitation of a child" charge as if it had anything to do with the hyperthermia case smacks of damning the guy with the charges. If I were charged with drunk driving, would it matter if I also wasn't paying my taxes?

So the case has a lot of disturbing angles on both sides. But one thing is true. When we are fed a steady diet of rare child tragedies in the media, they stop looking rare to all of us: parents and cops, judges and juries, evildoers and the innocent. 

NEXT: California "Ghost Gun" Bill Would Effectively Ban 3D-Printed Guns, Homemade Weapons

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  1. And in fact, if you looked at all the crazy things I Google on a daily basis, you would take me for a pedophile with a squirrel fetish and chocolate chip cookie obsession.

    Go on…

  2. if you looked at all the crazy things I Google on a daily basis, you would take me for a pedophile with a squirrel fetish and chocolate chip cookie obsession

    You too?!?

  3. if you looked at all the crazy things I Google on a daily basis, you would take me for a pedophile with a squirrel fetish and chocolate chip cookie obsession

    “It’s for *research*!”

  4. Of course, Harris is innocent until proven guilty, so I don’t want to belabor the point. And in fact, if you looked at all the crazy things I Google on a daily basis, you would take me for a pedophile with a squirrel fetish and chocolate chip cookie obsession. An online trail is not a smoking gun.

    If you saw Warty’s search history, you’d be driven to madness.

    1. Not even the FBI wants to see Warty’s search history. Some things are not meant for humans to know.

  5. I’m sensing a theme to these comments.

  6. As a private citizen I can judge the sick fuck, can’t I? I still seethe with anger when I think about how my former friend allowed his brown lab to die in a similar manner. I’m sure he googled “dog-free life” and thought hey, what’s one more?

    Ewww, reason. You make me feel like a dirty, dirty waffles.

    1. Why would you need to research child-free life anyway? Was this guy born with a kid already, or something?

    2. This guy really offed his dog on purpose in this manner, or was he just incredibly negligent? I know a family who accidentally left their dog in the car, and spent a good portion of the day looking for it. The eight-year-old boy got to thinking, and went out to the car. Dead dog. That left a bit of a mark on all involved.

      1. Accident. And I feel terrible for him. Also I have no way to check his google history.

  7. Taking out a life insurance policy on a small child under non-criminal circumstances just seems like a weird thing to do. It’s not like there’s lost productivity at stake or something.

    1. Most commonly people will do $10-20K to cover burial costs, etc. That is very common.

      1. That makes some sense I suppose. Although I’d think most people who are so uber-prepared in life that they have this level of foresight generally have $10k kicking around for such an event.

        1. Not really.

          And a 10k insurance policy on a healthy kid is going to cost like $2 per month or something.

      2. The keyword is common people. Sick people obviously have different motives.

  8. As a daily reader of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, I have followed this story closely and I think there is a very good case to be made that he intentionally murdered his son, given that he went into his car during lunch.

    1. “During lunch said accused did access the same vehicle through the driver’s side door to place an object into the vehicle,” the warrant states. “Said accused then closed the door and left the car, re-entering his place of business.”

      Link

      1. Let justice take its course and such, but, my God…

        I saw the pudgy turnip in question on TV last night. According to the story, he had all sorts of side relationships in the offing. Is every halfwit, gravy-drinking shlub with an internet connection a woman-fetching lothario now?

        1. Let justice take its course and such

          Agreed, but he also drove two miles to a shopping center to get help. Why would he do that given that he was parked at Home Depot’s offices, where he worked? There’s a lot of weird shit to this story.

          But this is Reason, so Trayvon Martin was just a sweet little boy walking home from the candy store and Michael Brown was a kind, gentle giant heading off to college.

          1. This is why we have juries, and why people who rail against jury verdicts they don’t like should have their lip-balm replaced with superglue.

            The jury system is far from perfect. Prosecutors and policemen who lie in the courtroom, or otherwise try to get their thumbs on the scales of justice, should do jail time. But a jury, legally impaneled, entitled to come to their own conclusions, is far likelier to produce a fair verdict than we of the general public, relying on whatever the Press and the Internet have chosen to pass along.

          2. And when his wife went to pick up their son at daycare, and the daycare worker said that her husband did not bring the child there that day, the wife immediately said something like “Oh my god, then he must have left him in the car all day.” Quite a strange conclusion to jump to.

  9. What would media-tainment do without the availability heuristic?

  10. Sounds liek some pretty serious business. WOw.

    http://www.Crypt-Anon.tk

  11. Given that the age of sexual consent in Georgia is 16, it’s not actually illegal for an adult to talk about having sex with a 16 year old.

    Possessing a naked photograph of that 16 year old (or being sent one) IS illegal, but that would result in child pornography charges. The way the article only mentions exploitation specifically leads me to believe it was just talking dirty.

    How exactly do you get indicted for behavior that is not illegal?

  12. ~When we are fed a steady diet of rare child tragedies in the media, they stop looking rare to all of us: parents and cops, judges and juries, evildoers and the innocent. ~

    I would add that it also looks common to lawmakers and then they start writing unnecessary laws and stricter punishments.

  13. If he has flash bang grenades his son to death while wearing a uniform, no charges would have been pursued.

  14. my classmate’s ex-wife makes $72 every hour on the laptop . She has been out of work for six months but last month her paycheck was $17318 just working on the laptop for a few hours. over at this website….

    ???????? http://www.netjob70.com

  15. This guy left a TODDLER in a hot car in Georgia?????

    FUCK HIM.

  16. in this article it looks like Lenore Skenazy is sort of implying that the shrill media attitude helped contribute to those two child-murders

    and I know most people would find that stupid, but I gotta say I actually agree with her sentiment. I do think that the public’s misconceptions did emoblden these guys to kill their kids. If instead of being shrill all the time, the culture were understanding and thoughtful and didn’t jump to conclusions, these guys would feel it would be a lot harder to get away with a murder

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