The XX Factor

On Amy and Randy Loughner and Susan Klebold

What hell is now unfolding inside the Loughners’ house? Jared’s parents, Amy and Randy, haven’t spoken to the press, and don’t appear to have left home since Saturday. But this morning, a few news outlets have an account from a neighbor, Wayne Smith, who delivered the bad news to them on Saturday afternoon, when they returned from an errand to find their house covered in crime scene tape.

“She almost passed out right there,” Smith told the Wall Street Journal . “He sat in the road with the tape up and cried.” Smith, who brought the Loughners’ mail to them yesterday, is quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying that, as of yesterday, the Loughners were still “in there crying. He’s crying and hanging on to me and she’s not even out of bed.” Jared’s father has written a statement but isn’t sure when to release it.

Until he does, we are left to wonder: How could the Loughners have failed to realize how sick their son was? And if they did realize: Why didn’t they get him adequate psychiatric care? Sources involved in the case report that the Loughners didn’t realize what bad shape their son was in, but that goes without saying. The thornier question is what they should have done differently. This much we do know: In the weeks ahead, they will be blamed and blamed again.

That is what happened to the parents of Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Harris tried to deflect the blame from them, leaving behind a video in which he quoted Shakespeare: “Good wombs have borne bad sons.” But it made no difference. In a Colorado News Poll after the shootings, 83 percent of Coloradoans said the Klebolds’ and Harrises’  “failure to teach their children proper moral values played a major part” in the killings and 82 percent said “parents who don’t spend enough time with their kids were a major factor.”  And yet, as the New York Times later reported at great length , Susan Klebold spent a lot of time with her kids and tried her best to instill good values. She was “more patient and gentle and kind with her kids than I was able to be,” one mother told a reporter; her husband was, by all accounts, a good father. The Harrises were likewise caring parents; when their son displayed worrisome signs they got him psychiatric care and medication and paid him lots of attention.

Before the inevitable rush to judge the Loughners begins, before we jump to conclusions about how easy it is for the parents of a mentally ill young adult to do the right thing-whatever that might be-it is worth remembering Susan Klebold. She wrote a harrowing and deeply humbling account of what it was like to be viewed as an accomplice in her son’s crime for O, The Oprah Magazine in 2009; it bears rereading now.*

*Correction, Jan. 11, 2011: This post originally identified Susan Klebold’s article as appearing in 1999.

Jared Lougher photo courtesy of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, yearbook photo.