Perhaps a few readers of this column will remember "The Shadow," the invincible crime fighter whose weekly adventures were part of the old-time mystery radio series from 1930-1954. The Shadow had great strength. He could speak any language, read all codes, and "cloud men's minds" so as to become invisible in their presence. The Shadow knew the evil in the heart of men. But he, of course, was only a fictional character. In real life, there are differences between evil, rash to irresponsible behavior, and total and complete self-centeredness.
This appears to have been the case with 18-year old David Ludwig and his 14-year old girlfriend, Kara Beth Borden. Ludwig is now accused of the wanton murder of Kara's parents, 50-year-old Michael and Cathryn Borden, in Lancaster County, Pa. Ludwig had allegedly spent the night, in fact a number of nights, with young Kara Beth. The last straw was when she lied to her parents to cover spending a Saturday night with Ludwig. After dropping her off at home the next morning, Ludwig's initial cell phone text messages to Kara went unanswered, and when she finally replied, she said she was caught and needed him to come to her house.
David grabbed four guns (3 pistols and a rifle) and a knife and headed for the Borden home. During a 45-minute argument with Ludwig, Kara's father drew the line in the sand. Ludwig was to have no further contact with Kara, period. That's when Ludwig pulled out a .40 caliber Glock 27 semi-automatic pistol from his belt, one of almost 60 firearms that were available to him in the home he shared with his parents. Ludwig shot Michael Borden in the back, and then callously shot Kara's mom as she vainly tried to get out of her chair. "It was an intentional murder," admitted Ludwig. "I intended to shoot them, and I did." I did not aim," he went on to say, "but I usually hit what I shoot at."
As if this horror story could get any worse, when Ludwig fled the crime scene, Kara Beth ran after the killer of her parents, not to stop him, not to scream "You monster, how could you do this," but to jump in his car and flee with him, this as her parents lay dying in her home. "I wanted to get as far away as possible," she told investigators. "I wanted to get married (to Ludwig) and start a new life."
When we recently discussed this case on "The Abrams Report," host Dan Abrams asked how this was possible. How could this young girl, one of five children in a deeply religious family, be a part of the murder of her parents? When I first heard (and wrote about) this case almost two weeks ago that was my challenge, too. How could either of these two so-called "average and good" kids have committed or been involved in this crime, one of matricide and patricide for Kara Borden. It just didn't make sense, and the lack of any reported pre-incident indicators on their part was baffling. Some have suggested that Ludwig may have just "snapped." The reality though is people don't just "snap." There are almost always indications that something is wrong, a word, an attitude, a message sent in some fashion prior to the act of violence. We just disregard or overlook these emotional and verbal signposts to disaster. And what about religion? Well, religious faith is not a life insurance policy or a guarantee of any sort. It's simply a standard that you can choose to live by or die by. "Choice" is the key word here.
In the case of David Ludwig, it appears he had mentioned to friends a few days before he killed the Bordens that he could commit a murder and just get away. He obviously planned, or at the very least considered some act of violence due to the amount of firepower he brought with him when he met with Kara's dad. And when he was told "No," as in "No, you cannot see my daughter again," he shot and killed both parents, in his mind perhaps canceling their "no" forever.
Other information concerning the two young lovers, at least one of whom was willing to kill to be with the other, is still coming out. Some reports indicate that Ludwig may have used his religious faith as bait to attract other young girls, that is, he may have talked the talk that they wanted to hear. That behavior wouldn't have made him a double murderer. But what kind of delusional world were these two teens operating in? How could they have expected to flee the scene of a double murder and just fade away, get married, and start a new life together? What were they thinking about? The answer revealed in their many web blog sites and entries is probably each other. Mr. and Mrs. Borden realized, too late, that Kara's relationship with David was getting her in way over her head. She was dealing with emotions, feelings, and responses that her parents believed to be inappropriate for someone her age, and when her parents stepped in, they never thought they'd both die in their daughter's behalf.
I spent last weekend with family members in the Midwest, to include my 14-year old niece. As I looked at her clean-cut youthfulness-she's a high school freshman, cheerleader, etc., I had to consider how she might respond to such a situation. Was she capable of watching her two primary caregivers (my sister and brother-in-law) die in front of her and then simply run off with their murderer? In her case, the answer is no, but apparently in Kara Borden's case, the answer was a spontaneous yes. Yet to be determined is if she had any foreknowledge of Ludwig's plans for her parents that terrible Sunday morning. By this, did Kara know the murder of her parents was something David was capable of doing, something that he may have discussed with her, something he might do that morning?
As you read the many e-mails written by these two teenagers you see another side to their personalities, a side unseen by their parents, but obviously to their friends. Both teenagers were the product of home schooling, clearly something that did not shield them from the challenges and temptations of the world. But if their friends knew, why didn't they tell? (Because teenagers don't tell on each other.) And how did their parents not detect the burning relationship between the two teens, one that was apparently stronger that the social restraints around the young lovers? Teenage homicide is not that unusual and young killers don't come exclusively from inner city, one-parent homes, as this case and so many others have proved.
Anti-gun readers will note the three score number of firearms in Ludwig's home. Statistics show a direct relationship between access to weapons and their use. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" we are told, but access to firearms provides a way of problem solving, of conflict resolution that can never be taken back or corrected. Neither the Bordens nor David Ludwig will get a second chance; there is no make up test in murder. The Bordens are dead and the fate of the self confessed teenage killer will be resolved by the court in due time. But what about Kara and her four brothers and sisters? And what about the many other families that have been forever changed by this senseless act of violence, this horrible indictment of the simply word "No?" Family friends have attended the memorial service and have collectively asked their own children, "Did you know this was going on?" Just as David and Kara were driven by their raging hormones and emotions, their friends were bound by the teenage omerta that says "Don't rat out a friend, especially to adults." As one friend attempted to counsel Kara in an Internet conversation, Kara in turn responded,
"if it doesnt have anything to do with you, then i dont want to know... what you have to say. no offence. if it has to do with david and me, we are taking care of it - we know what we are going to do. so you are just gonna go tell everyone?" Kara's friend responded, "no i'm not. i will NEVER do that..."
If you're a parent, do your children trust you enough to speak up in such matters? If not, they could spend the rest of their lives considering the "could have, should have, would have" aspects of this case.
How about David and Kara? Were they both young sociopaths in the making, (a nurse who works with the criminally insane wrote me that in her opinion all teenagers are temporary sociopaths, i.e., they break the rules of society and may get into trouble without intending to do so), or were they just children who had gone too far together to be told "no?" In a homemade video found on a computer in Ludwig's home, David discussed his plan to conduct an armed raid on another family's home. The video went on to show Ludwig and another teenager carrying firearms into a home, but court documents say they gave up on their plan due to the many cars on the street, evidently suggesting their concern that they'd be seen by witnesses.
We know that Ludwig ultimately pulled the physical trigger on the gun that left five children without parents. Yet to be answered is Kara's role in the death of her parents. Did she, and, in reality, could she fully realize the devastation that her boyfriend would heap on her family that fateful morning? Bottom line? The indicators were there. Others had seen them, heard them, and discussed them with the secretive young couple, all to no avail. What was different with them is the question. How were they different than any other young couple that burned for each other, that hid aspects of their relationship from their parents, or, in Ludwig's case, that grew up in a home with guns, lots and lots of guns? I still find it hard not to consider Kara a victim in this matter, a victim of David, and a victim of herself and of growing up too fast, but each of us ultimately have to take responsibility for our own role in any personal situation.
"The Shadow" is not real, but parents are-hard working, tired, and overwhelmed multitasking parents who still need to find time for each of their children. Video games, the sometimes-too-insular world of home schooling, guns in the home, secrets held from parents, friends who knew but wouldn't tell, signs that were missed or simply disregarded by parents, and an open secret that no one would admit to. Michael Borden stepped up to bat for his daughter and was gunned down from behind for doing it. How could anyone have known?
As in most other aspects of life, violence is a learned behavior. Children learn it from their parents and their peers. Their behavior as it relates to violence is reinforced by what they see on the Internet, on TV, in films (no passes for Hollywood here), and in video games. For game manufacturers to suggest that violent video games, ones that allow the player to commit dozens, hundreds of murders without any thought of responsibility is just not right. Violent rap and other music that advocates violence as a conflict resolution tool and crimes against women and the authorities further contributes to the problem.
If there is a gun in your home, keep it unloaded and locked away. Lock the bullets away in a separate place. The key to both should be available only to responsible adults. The gun must also be kept safe from family members who are depressed, abusive to others or abusing drugs (including alcohol), or who have Alzheimer's disease.
Teenagers often act without thinking first. When teenagers are angry or depressed, they are more likely to kill themselves or harm themselves or others if they can easily get a gun.
Its best not to have a gun in your home at all if someone who lives there is depressed or is thinking of suicide, or is a troubled teenager or adult. If you have a gun in your home, you are 5 times more likely to have a suicide in your house than homes without a gun. An unlocked gun could be the death of your family, or, in this case, another family.
Remember, you don't have to have all the abilities of "The Shadow" to support and protect your children. That's ok though. Just be around, talk to your kids, know their friends and activities, and lock up your guns. Because, as we've just seen in a quiet county in Pennsylvania, who knows what evil lurks?
Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."