Compassion in Coppell (Commentary)
With a heavy heart, I took to the airwaves Friday night after what had been a tragic 48 hours or so in North Texas. Coppell Mayor Jayne Peters (pictured) had gunned down her daughter, Corinne, and then took her own life.
Radio broadcasts and blogs had been filled with comments from people with no sympathy for what family and friends of the mayor and her daughter are now going through:
“She’s a murderer.”
“She’s a coward.”
“I’m glad she’s dead. One less crazy woman.”
“Why lower the flag for a woman who killed her kid? She’s honored while the average joe who puts on his work boots every day and makes it happen on a daily basis gets nothing?”
An honest debate over why the flag had been lowered at Coppell city hall was healthy and justified. There was no honor in what had happened. Only sadness.
Jayne Peters had lost her husband to cancer recently and was struggling to pay her bills. We now learn that she had used her government credit card to buy groceries and clothes. Her daughter, Corinne, had just graduated from the Coppell ISD and had told friends she was preparing to go to UT. But, it turns out the University of Texas had no record of her applying to become a Longhorn.
The more information that emerges about the Peters’ situation, the more it seems they were felt pressured to keep up appearances.
In her suicide notes, which were scattered around her apparently unaffordable home, Jayne Peters wrote that 19 year old Corinne (pictured) had become “completely unconsolable.” She and her daughter had “not slept at all, and neither one of us could stop crying when we were together.” Mayor Peters asked that there “please, please, please” be no funeral or memorial. Nevertheless, hundreds showed up for a memorial Friday afternoon.
So many mean spirtited comments have been directed at Jayne Peters and it’s not difficult to understand why. There has been an all out assault on empathy in America. Why wouldn’t this woman have let her family and neighbors know how bad things had become? Is it because we’re not supposed to lean on others? Is it because those of us who live in suburban America have been told that no matter what your circumstances may be, your neighbor doesn’t need to be bothered with it? You should always be self-sufficient. You should never allow yourself to be seen as weak.
On my Friday night show, I was overhwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy. One caller told me his son had attempted to commit suicide on Father’s Day. Father’s Day to him now is a celebration of the fact that he’s STILL a father. Another told me they feel there just aren’t any forums in which people are allowed to express support for those who are suffering in tough economic times.
Another listener who lives in Coppell wrote to me: “As a neighborhood and community, we will get past this tragedy. However, the family will have to deal with this forever. Friends will have to deal with this forever…I saw the family go to the house today and I feel terribly sorry for them.”
Those who repeatedly call for personal responsibility are right. But, there is also a responsibility to let our neighbors know we are there for them and there’s no need to feel such great shame for their failings.
Heaven help us all if we can’t do that.