116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It’s rare that young adults commit murder, but four Iowans are awaiting trial for just that. The murders happened just months apart in 2021. The Gazette's Bailey Cichon spoke with experts about teens who commit crimes, resources for communities affected by homicide and how to identify escalating behaviors. Watch the video in the player above.
Ongoing coverage of these cases by The Gazette:
Bailey Cichon: This video covers sensitive subject matter, viewer discretion is advised. It's rare for kids to kill. So it was a shock when four young adults in Iowa were charged with murder just months apart in 2021. In June, 20-year-old Alexander Ken Jackson was charged with shooting his parents and sister in Cedar Rapids. In October, 17-year-old Ethan Alexander Orton was charged with murdering his parents with a knife and ax in their Cedar Rapids home. In November, 16-year-old Jeremy Everett Goodale, and 16-year-old Willard Noble Chaiden Miller were charged with murdering their Spanish teacher in Fairfield. Those trials are pending, but this isn’t the first time young adults have been charged with murder in Iowa. In 2012, 17-year-old Isaiah Sweet pled guilty in the murders of his grandparents in Manchester. In 2006, 22-year-old Shawn Bentler shot his parents and three sisters. These crimes leave the state of Iowa asking the question, why do kids kill? Experts say it's difficult to study kids who kill because it's such a rare occurrence.
Dr. Luis Rosell: However, these cases when they do occur, they make not just local but national news. Therefore, we think it's much more common than it actually is. I mean, some would say, "Well, if it happens at all, it's it's too much." Others would say, "Well, there's a lot of individuals who are experiencing the same type of anger, frustration, self absorption, etc, but do not engage in the behavior." But we only focus clearly on the ones who do engage on it.
Bailey Cichon: There are many factors that, when combined, can influence an adolescent to kill. This may include narcissism, not understanding consequences for one's actions, difficulty with impulse control, violence as a response to abuse, peer pressure, mental illness, substance abuse, and more.
Dr. Luis Rosell: Their brain is not even fully developed. And the part of the brain that controls a lot of these things that I've been talking about, such as disinhibition, planning, considering consequences, is all part of the brain that's developed the latest. And so that becomes a whole issue. And that has actually been considered in many legal cases all the way to the Supreme Court on many occasions regarding juvenile crimes and adolescent brain development.
Bailey Cichon: Additionally, today's youth have been living in a prolonged state of uncertainty and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. David Perrodin: When youth have fewer new experiences. So in the last two years, with the pandemic, fewer opportunities to go to school, to participate in sport events, to go to a movie, to do things at a playground, those move kids along through time, and when those don't happen, kids tend to languish. It's kind of like a whirlpool in a river. You're not going down river, you're caught in this whirlpool spinning around, and kids tend to languish.
Bailey Cichon: Adults and children have had a two-year-long test of resiliency. As new variants of COVID-19 emerge, routines are put back in flux.
Dr. David Perrodin: This week, I'm in school next week, I'm not in school, and who knows what happens after that. So if you're 10 years old, the pandemic has been 20% of your life. If you're 50 years old, it's only been 2% of your life.
Bailey Cichon: The pandemic has increased feelings of stagnation, hopelessness, and lack of control over one's life.
Dr. David Perrodin: Civilians burn out after 90 days of extended chaos. We've seen that and it has a tremendous impact on kids.
Penny Galvin: We are a program that works with families of homicide victims, as well as other felony violent crimes. On average, a murderer impacts at least 40 people. There are different types of murders, there are highly publicized murders that can impact family, friends community.
Bailey Cichon: What advice would you give to someone who lives in a community that has been affected by a murder such as Fairfield?
Penny Galvin: To reach out for assistance, nobody is immune to murder. And, especially in small towns, many people know the defendant as well as the victims. So you know, we are here to offer support to any community member that needs that. We're more than happy to work with them. Because again, it doesn't just affect family members. It is a different kind of grief that people experience with a murder is traumatic grief, which is anywhere from two to seven years. So it's not as if somebody lost somebody to old age or a car accident. It's due to horrific, horrific crime that happened.
Bailey Cichon: Paying attention to mental health of young adults is key to stopping behaviors from escalating to violence.
Drew Martel: Behavioral challenges in youth are similar to behavioral challenges in adults, especially in teens. Teens who struggle to make friendships. Isolation. Sleep disturbances are something that we encourage people to pay attention to. We also encourage parents to proactively check in with their youth to see how they're doing. The other thing I would say is depression and anxiety are both very common. Somewhere around 75% of mental health issues start to present in the young adults period. So that's late teens to early adulthood. So that's something that that parents want to be kind of keyed in on and monitor their kids and see if those issues start to appear. And the other thing I would say is that education around mental health issues and behavioral health issues, both in the school system but also from parents is a really important component.
Emily Blomme: If peers and adults notice escalating behavior, I think it's important to talk to someone about that. Primarily talk to the person who you're concerned about, I think a great opportunity to engage with someone is to express your concern directly to them, to tell them that you're worried to ask them if there are things they need to remind them that you're a person that can support them and provide them guidance and help them even if right now, they don't need help. In the future, you're a person that they could come to and, and talk to.
Bailey Cichon: Violence may not be as serious as murder, but it can include harming oneself and others.
Drew Martel: I think it's important that we recognize that early intervention is an important component of mental health care, just like it's an important component of physical health care. And if you have concerns behaviorally or mental health wise, you should reach out to a professional. These services are not being over utilized. And it is a good place to start if you as a parent have concerns about a teen or or child.
Emily Blomme: Doing nothing will not help the situation get any better. Ignoring a problem that seems very obvious also isn't going to help and when you know more information, then you can do something different and I think that's the only thing that will change the trajectory of the situation that a that a young adult is in.
Bailey Cichon: The Gazette will have updates on the trials of Alexander Ken Jackson, Ethan Alexander Orton, Jeremy Everett, Goodale, and Willard Noble Chaiden Miller.