Sorrow in South Carolina

Sorrow in South Carolina

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 COLUMBIA, S.C. ( - Sorrow, shock and sadness filled the sanctuary of St. Paul Baptist Church in Orangeburg, S.C., where a combined funeral was held recently for two-year-old Devean Duley and his 18-month-old brother Ja'Van. Alarm and anger gripped the state when news broke about the murder of the two toddlers allegedly at the hands of their own mother.

Shaquan Duley, 29, an unemployed single mom stands accused of suffocating the boys to death in room 31 of a cheap motel, then driving to a docking bay where she allegedly pushed the car with the toddlers into the Edisto River.

According to Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams, Ms. Duley flagged a passing car for help, pleading that her car with her children inside was in the water resulting from an accident—a story investigators say didn't add up.

Sheriff Williams said there was no physical evidence as far as any vehicle leaving the road or any skid marks or anything of that nature that would be relevant to an automobile accident. Deputy sheriffs further observed that Ms. Duley was completely dry casting doubt on her initial account of what happened.

“It was our early determination that this vehicle was in the Edisto River by either being intentionally placed there or rolling from the secondary highway down to the river,” Sheriff Williams said, in a press conference.

According to the sheriff, Ms. Duley was first arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident. He said, however, she later confessed to committing the murders after a heated argument with her mother about the care of her children. Her five-year-old daughter wasn't taken with the brothers the night of their deaths.

Public reaction to the deaths was stinging against Ms. Duley with expressions of disbelief and bewilderment that a mother could possibly kill her own children. The funeral for the boys was held Aug. 20.

A page dedicated to condemning Ms. Duley posted comments ranging from the sympathetic “put it in God's hands” to total calls to “give her the electric chair” for what she has allegedly done.

“Despicable,” wrote Jamilah Gibbs on the social networking site. “We all have been stressed at one time or another, it doesn't mean that we kill our children, the ones that we carried in our stomach for 40 weeks, the ones that we are supposed to love, nurture, protect,” wrote Ms. Gibbs, a mother of four.

However, a call for public restraint was issued regarding the the young mother. In a television interview, her mother, Helen Duley, described her daughter as a “sweet, loving person” who became overwhelmed. She hopes the misfortune can be a lesson for people in crises and getting help.

“There is a deep hurt. This is a very dark time in our lives,” the elder Duley told WLTX-TV in Columbia.

“I'm asking people not to judge her for what she's done but to understand that we all have problems and we never know when things might get out of hand. That's why it's important not to keep things bottled up in you, but to let somebody know.”

“This isn't a hardened criminal. ... This is a young lady who was in trouble,” Sheriff Williams said. “She didn't know where to turn ... the responsibility of being a mom was a bit much for her.”

The elder Duley added, “You don't know what is in the minds of people.” She asked people to look for indicators of something wrong or different with their loved ones.

But what could cause a mother to snap and kill her children? What are the signs to look for? Where is the help for women in crises, overwhelmed with the weight of motherhood?

“I'm a single parent myself and know firsthand, while I deal with other women who are single mothers, I know what it is to have that experience,” said Zekita Tucker, chairwoman and CEO of the League of African-American Women in St. Louis.

“The pressures are very tough, nobody can understand it unless you are walking in those shoes,” Ms. Tucker said.

The abuse of children can never be condoned, and often it's external pressures bearing on the frustration of being the only caretaker without any help, she explained. There are relationship issues—especially where abuse exists—and the mother may act out “passive aggressive reactions,” where her children become recipients of the pain the mother feels powerless to heap on her abuser, said Ms. Tucker.

According to Parenting Partners, a South Carolina advocacy group, child abuse and neglect cuts across socio-economic, religious, racial and ethnic lines. A child is abused or neglected in South Carolina every 49 minutes.In the Midlands region of the state, every year some 11,000 children are verified as abused and neglected. In 2007, 850 cases of abuse were found involving over 1,100 children. The group estimates three times that number remains unreported.

Studies have shown that “Black people will commit homicide” most times in a moment of passion, motivated by a perception of blame on the victim, according to author and psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Hare.

“They can become more argumentative, easily angered or they can be brooding much, not saying much,” Dr. Hare said, describing some signs of changes in personality. It is hard to predict who will snap because the average person is not looking for anything out of the ordinary, he said.

South Carolina ranks 34th among states in the percent of children who are living in extreme poverty. Children in families with less than $15,000 annual income are 22 times more likely to be abused or neglected than children from families with income of $30,000 or more.

“In 20/20, when you look back there were so many signs of her (Shaquan Duley) reaching out that we missed,” said Troy Strother, executive director of Parents Anonymous. “There had to be some signs somewhere, somehow.”

The support group is designed for troubled parents to network with others going through similar problems. Mr. Strother said there has been an increase in calls to his agency because of hard times facing women and men looking for answers.

There is help available in South Carolina through agencies and organizations like Parents Anonymous, Prevent Child Abuse South Carolina and religious organizations around the state.