In a story that made national headlines last week, Anthony Tyrone Terrell Jr., 17, gunned down his mother, a Gwinnett County sheriff’s deputy, and his two younger sisters, one of whom, Jelani, 4, was the daughter of rap star Juvenile.
Anthony Tyrone Terrell Jr. is most likely a sociopath – a bad seed born with no conscience or empathy for others.
Experts say even in a loving home environment, a sociopath can grow up to kill his entire family, then grab a basketball and go shoot hoops with friends as if nothing happened.
Though studies suggest that most sociopathic killers were abused as children, not all abused children grow up to kill their entire families. Sociopaths can be intelligent, charming and show no outward appearance of their inner turmoil. Studies and conclusions on children who kill their families are based on observations made by the children who may perceive themselves as being neglected or abused.
So what distinguishes these children from others?
I spoke with two friends – both child psychologists who work at a local university. Neither doctor wanted to be identified. So for the purpose of this story, I will refer to them as Dr. A and Dr. B.
Both doctors agreed that most children who kill their families are difficult to identify early on because parents often ignore the signs. By the time the sociopathic child reaches school age, he is already on his way to developing into a psychopath. The children may interact well with schoolmates but signs of antisocial behavior are there.
Some will exert control over other children by bullying them on the schoolyard while portraying a different personality at home. Both docs say that identifying sociopathic children early and getting them into treatment is crucial.
So what are the warning signs?
Dr. A cautions that just because children exhibits these characteristics, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will grow up to become killers.
For an example of a child who demonstrates several of the symptoms, Dr. B, who is a big “Wire” fan, points to 12-year-old Kenard (pictured above). Kenard is a fictional character from “The Wire” HBO’s real-life drama about drug dealing and widespread corruption in Baltimore.
She describes a scene in episode 8 where feared neighborhood legend Omar Little approaches a group of boys in an alley surrounding a cat that they are about to set on fire. “The boys scatter in every direction – all except Kenard who shows no fear,” says Dr. B.
“With one hand he’s holding the cat on the ground. In the other hand he holds a container of lighter fluid,” she explains. “An adult has just interrupted him in the process of abusing an animal, yet he shows no guilt, remorse or embarrassment. A few minutes later, Kenard executes Omar with one shot to the back of the head.”
Dr. B admits that Kenard’s rapid progression from animal cruelty to killing a man is not the norm. “But [Kenard] is a classic example of a child sociopath,” she said.
For real life examples of sociopathic children, Dr. A points to Malcolm X’s grandson, Malcolm Shabazz, who caused the death of his grandmother at age 12 by setting fire to her home; Lionel Tate who was sentenced to life in prison at age 12 for killing his six-year-old playmate; and Anthony Tyrone Terrell (pictured right).
“To their families, these boys seemed normal without any evidence of pathologies,” said Dr. A. “But the warning signs were there all along.”
Dr. A said children should be assessed for signs of antisocial behavior as early as age 4. “By the time the sociopathic child reaches puberty, it’s often too late. He’s untreatable,” he said.