Here on the central Oregon coast, we seldom make headlines. Most of us like it that way. That’s one of the reasons we live here. Usually peaceful, quiet sort of place – except for tourist season. But, even then, people come and go and life still runs at an acceptably normal pace for most of us.
When we do make the national news, it’s almost always because something bad has happened. Something very abnormal – usually dealing with death and/or destruction. The news kids from Portland and Eugene run over to take notice, shoot some pictures and spread whatever the details may be of our latest anomaly. Like – well – like a mother leading her six-year-old boy by the hand out a quarter mile to the middle of a very high bridge, throwing him 133 feet to his death – then calling the cops. Things like that.
The 3,260 foot long Yaquina Bay Bridge at Newport is a major icon on the Oregon coast – one of 11 bridges designed in the 1930’s and ‘40’s by engineer Conde McCullough. All his work has a sort of art deco flavor with large curved arches at the center. Nearly all are on the National Historic Register and, when repairs have been required because of age and wear and tear, the structures have been faithfully kept true to the original designs. We who traverse them regularly don’t give them much thought. Not much, that is, until someone uses one as a murder weapon.
The self-confessed killer is Jillian McCabe. The victim was her autistic son, London. That evening, immediately after throwing London to his death, she called 9-1-1, confessed, then waited on the sidewalk of the center span we locals have traveled over so many times without thinking of it as a possible crime scene. She just waited as cops, EMT’s and onlookers arrived in ever-increasing numbers. In about two hours later, everyone was gone and Jillian McCabe was on a suicide watch in the Lincoln County jail.
Four hours later, some folks walking on a dock at an upscale condominium complex a couple of miles East of the bridge saw the small, broken body floating a few feet out.
About the only other factual details available at this point are these: Jillian’s husband had been recently diagnosed with MS and lost his job – London was autistic and required special expensive care he wouldn’t be able to get – his mother had no special employment skills and her family said she had mental problems for a long time.
So, now you know the facts. Such as they are.
Oh, one more thing. A couple of hundred adults and children – most of whom had heard of London McCabe – descended on Newport to hold a couple of vigils in his memory and to tell local media “we’ll never forget.”
The problem is, they will forget. In a way, they already have. They’ll go home, get involved with their normal lives and an Oregon mother’s murder of her child will soon be just another distant memory. If that.
Jillian McCabe will be arraigned eventually. She’ll be shuttled off to a state institution for mental evaluation – one that should’ve been done years ago when her family watched a person they knew had problems get married and have a child. Jillian will come back and, given the facts and that taxpayer-funded exam, be judged on her proven incompetence, be assigned to a state institution and become just another closed case in the files of the Lincoln County Prosecutor. In a year – maybe two – most of us will forget.
But there are others – many others who should remember. Others who include politicians who fail to adequately fund society’s responsibilities to care for those with mental defect or injury. Like the hundreds of thousands of young people sent off to war with no damned thought about their medical- AND psychiatric – needs after multiple trips to the battlefields. We paid to train ‘em and send ‘em out to kill. But we never thought about ‘em coming home with unseen mental injuries caused by the killing and now so many are killing themselves at home we don’t even report the statistics any more. There are Jillian McCabes in their numbers.
How about the millions of mentally disaffected now roaming our streets? We call them “homeless” as if they were out there as the result of financial problems instead of the basic need for mental and physical health care that should be afforded all who live in this country. What of our responsibility for them? Are there more Jillian McCabes we drive past on our streets?
When loving, caring people want to adopt a child in this county, we’ve put so damned many hoops and bear traps in our systems that many give up. But nearly anyone with diminished mental capacity can have kids by the litter – some of whom are guaranteed to require the kind of expensive care London McCabe couldn’t have. What about our responsibilities to them? To the unborn? What about the treatment and habilitation they need?
Mental illness treatment – whether inherited or conditioned by war or other mind-bending experiences – has never – never – had full support of society. We’ve banished millions to institutions. We’ve closed institutions when politicians needed to show the folks at home they could “reduce the size of government” or avoid a tax increase. The vastly overly esteemed Ronald Reagan did that in the ‘80’s – shuttering thousands of mental health facilities – saying churches and others “could pick up the slack. Oh, Hell yes!!! Can your church substitute for a mental health clinic?
We’ve underfunded and understaffed our public education system’s ability do deal with kids with mental problems because such care “ain’t readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic.” How many Jillian or London McCabes have flunked out or wound up in jails – or killed someone – because we couldn’t “see” their injuries – couldn’t “see” their hurt and their lifesaving needs?
Jillian McCabe will likely spend the rest of her life in one taxpayer-supported jail or hospital or other institution. If she lives to 80 or so, we’ll pay a million-dollars or more to see to her needs. What would it have cost society to guarantee she had the care she needed BEFORE had kids – BEFORE she led her son out on that Newport bridge to his death? How many thousands of dollars up front would have saved millions at the other end? And maybe London McCabe’s life? Just in this one case?
Yeah, there are folks now who believe they “won’t forget.” There are many who say they’ll never figure out how a mother could kill her own child. The little memorial sites will continue to collect stuffed animals and loving notes and candles in memory of London until a county employee eventually sweeps them all into a trash bag for the garbage heap. There won’t be anymore.
Remembering is one thing. Working for – and bringing about – change in how we treat mental illnesses is a whole different and much more difficult deal than just not forgetting some kid somewhere. There are a lot of Jillian and London McCabes in this world. And so far, we haven’t done a helluva lot for them.