How to Prevent the Next Mass Killing: Stop Abusing Our Boys

Talen Barton Pic

Talen Barton with his attorney Linda Thompson at his court appearance when he plead guilty to the murders of Teo Palmieri and his father Coleman Palmieri. – Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal

Mass killings in our society are becoming more and more common. We all deal with the trauma in our own ways. Writing helps me. In 2012 I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about 20 year-old Adam Lanza who killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Violence by young men seems to be escalating and getting closer. It recently came to my home town.

When I first heard that Talen Barton had killed his best friend Teo Palmieri and Teo’s father Coleman Palmieri I was stunned. When I learned that he had nearly killed Coleman’s wife, Cindy, and her brother, Theodore, in the rampage I was shaken to my core. I worked with Cindy, a medical doctor at Long Valley Health Center in Laytonville, and remember when she and Coleman first moved to the area. I knew that they had taken Talen to live with them a number of years ago and treated him as one of the family. After mourning the loss of life, I needed to understand how this tragedy had happened.

The headline in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 6, 2015 summarized the outcome:

Barton handed 71-year sentence in Laytonville stabbings, likely off to San Quentin

Men and women who work in law enforcement see too many killers like Talen Barton.

One detective said he was encountering “pure evil,” that Barton was an “absolute monster.”

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, prosecuting on behalf of the people, summarized the way we treat killers under our present system:

“He’s going to go to a warehouse where the forgotten go.”

We Must Be Willing to Go Deeper

If we are going to prevent more killings we have to go deeper to understand how Talen Barton became a killer. Talen Barton is 19 years old. Most mass murderers are young men who were once innocent little boys.

I’ve been a therapist for more than 40 years. I’ve worked in mental health settings as well as jails and prisons. I’ve seen many young men in prison who appear to be cold, heartless killers, pure evil. But I’ve learned to look deeper and what I’ve found is this:

Every mass killer was once an abused, neglected, or abandoned child.

What Happened to Talen Barton?

Talen was born in Phoenix, Arizona, May 17, 1996, at 12:04 AM. His unmarried mother was 18 years old and addicted to methamphetamine.  She had a history of heroin and cocaine abuse. She gave birth at age 16 to Talen’s older brother, Royal, who was named after the father. He left shortly after Talen’s birth and the two boys spent their early years being raised by their drug addicted mother and a succession of abusive boyfriends.

When Talen was 8 years old, he and his brother went to live with a couple in Palo Cedro, in Shasta County. According to a report by KRCR TV, a former legal guardian of Talen Barton, said of Talen, “He had a heart of gold, I mean he couldn’t do enough. He was a pleaser. He would do anything he could to please somebody.” But even as an 8-year-old, it was clear that the previous seven years had been horrific.

Talen’s former guardian continued his remembrance with the KRCR reporter. “He said he heard stories from Talen that he and his brother would spend nights trapped in a closet, bound at their hands and feet by duct tape. In another story, the boys said they would line up against a wall while their mom’s boyfriend would throw knives at them.” There were also reports that Talen had been sexually abused.

Try and imagine spending the first seven years of your life subjected to this kind of abuse. I can only imagine the helplessness and rage of a 7-year-old boy, terrorized by a man, who binds him, hands and feet, and repeatedly locks him in a dark closet. I can’t even imagine the degradation and anguish of a seven year-old child being sexually abused so early in life. I can only speculate at the trauma of being lined up against a wall while a man throws knives at you and how it may relate to killing his foster father and brother with a knife twelve years later.

Talen Barton in His Own Words

I’ve seen many young men in custody. They are generally terrified, but cover their feelings with a cool, uncaring exterior. It’s only when they trust enough to open up that we get a glimpse into what is really going on inside. Interviewed by the probation officer in jail Talen said, “It was really fucked up what I did. I deserve to be in jail for the rest of my life.”

In a letter to a friend written from jail, Talen shared rather openly, his understanding about why he did what he did.

“You have great faith in me when you say you don’t believe I did my deeds in a sane frame of mind. I’m sorry to say I did. As unfortunate as this whole situation is, it’s one caused 110% by me, while rational. What was my motive? Truly, simply, hatred. A lot of it was due to a fermenting hatred for Teo caused by strife and petty squabbles. More than that though, it came about due to a deep self-loathing brought about by years of mistakes and lies made mostly by me but also by others.”

It isn’t difficult to imagine that the source of his anger wasn’t “strife and petty squabbles” with Teo and his family, but the cauldron of suppressed rage at the men who abused him, the mother who failed to protect him, and perhaps the brother who shared his degradation. Talen was depressed at the time he attacked the Palmieri family, a depression brought about by rage precipitated by the abuse, neglect, and abandonment he experienced as a child.

What We Can Do to Prevent Future Violence

Here are some of things I take from these tragic events:

  1. If we only focus on the last act of violence we’ll never truly understand what turns someone into a killer.

When we read the stories in the newspaper it’s easy to conclude that the person who committed such horrendous acts of violence must be “pure evil,” a “monster,” someone who should be punished, warehoused, and forgotten. But that perception is based on what we see on the surface, the last straw. We need to have the courage to look more deeply.

  1. There are better ways to protect society than sending Talen to San Quentin for 71 years.

As a society, we have become fearful of young males. When they commit crimes our own rage is triggered and we want to punish them severely. We want to hide them away. We fool ourselves if we think that warehousing and forgetting this young man will make us more secure in our homes. Talen (and all angry young men) needed love, compassion, and protection as a child. He still needs our love and support now.

  1. We must understand violence as a response to violence.

I certainly don’t condone what Talen did. I still have nightmares seeing Cindy and her family being brutally attacked by this 19 year-old killer. But, seeing the full picture, I also see 7 year-old Talen growing up in a household where he was abused, neglected, and abandoned, where he was bound and locked in closets, and had knives thrown at him. We can’t understand his last act of violence without understanding the violence perpetrated on him as a child.

  1. It’s time we ended the cycle of abuse and violence.

One of the things that prompted me to write this was how little most people know about child abuse, neglect, and abandonment, particularly with boys. We want to be tough on crime, which usually means tough on young males, but fail to look at the roots of violence in abusive families.

When an abused woman “snaps” and kills the man who has abused her, we understand her response and offer compassion and support. We need to offer the same compassion and support for young men who become violent following years of abuse.

  1. We need a new approach for preventing violence.

Some believe that better mental health services might have prevented these killings. Although better supported mental health services are vital, we need a whole different understanding of violence and mental health treatment. Talen wasn’t mentally ill the way most people think of mental illness. He wasn’t hearing voices. He wasn’t delusional. He didn’t act “crazy.”

He was an abused child whose first seven years were horrendously traumatic, so much so that even having a great deal of love and support in later years couldn’t reverse the damage.

We need a new kind of prevention and treatment that is trauma-based, that seeks to understand these early childhood experiences and how they impact our lives now and forever. I highly recommend the book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, which offers the latest research finding on the impact of early trauma on later health and well-being. We all can learn and benefit from being aware of ways our adverse childhood experiences can impact our adult lives.

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Comments

  1. Nishant Setia says:

    When I read such news in India, in which certain extreme acts of violence done by young men, represented by media as “monstrous, subhuman” who should be exterminated from society, certain rage build within me in the moment… I’ve personally seen as a child boys being beaten up severely in school, home…..totally neglected by parents, and they find solace in mischief, getting in gangs and actually dominating others…

    I listen then that they are the impediments to societal growth.. Infact the most dangerous myth is that all humans are totally independent and everyone should take full responsibility for themselves… Looking at the mental health stats, and the stigma surrounding it, It pains me to see that it is too difficult to understand for people(even me many times) that when men harm others, largely they do so because they’ve been influenced largely by their own unhealthy experience shaping their perspective to such bad level that they don’t make any other choice but to harm others…

    How many more articles and public health messages we need to get this in people consciousness…

    Thanks for the article Jed.

    Nishant

    • Nishant, Thanks for the comments and the recognition that these acts of violence happen world-wide. We should also keep in mind that the media will report more and more violence and less and less acts of love, tenderness, care, support. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is a mantra of modern media. We need to keep our eyes, minds, and hearts focused on what we want more of in the world and support, recognize, and celebrate acts of courage, caring, and generosity.

    • A very interesting article. Don’t want to divert from topic, but this is so true that in India molestation, sexual assault, rape of young boys in not even recognized legally. Even domestic voilence law states clearly that “victim can only be a woman and accuser a man”.

      Boys as young as 12 years raped by women are labelled as rapist when their abuser files a complaint against them. In extreme cases 5-7 yrs old have been arrested for rape assault on their girls schoolmates.

      Though Government knows from statistics that the country is one of the safest in world for women (2.5 rapes/100,000 population compared with UK 28 for example) and 78% of cases are faked as in 70% of cases the accused is boyfriend who doesn’t want to marry his girlfriend..Indian laws consider consensual sex in such cases as rape if girlfriend says “I slept with her thinking that he would marry me or he promised to get married to me”.

      From reservation in schools, colleges, job-sector and complete ignorance of abuse agasinst boys and men, such incidents will become more common. A MALE being raped or labelled as a rapist/molester in a fake case resulting in his acquittal..in both the cases career and life is spoiled.

  2. Jed, I applaud you shining light upon the horrors of child abuse and the potential consequences both for the abused and for society. But I am concerned about an aura of rationalizing away and excusing the real damage done by perpetrators. It seems we are moving culturally to an abandonment of personal responsibility, it is always someone else’s fault. This young man committed those crimes, he made the choice. Trying to understand why may help us prevent future repeats of this horrific scenario. But telling the murderer or other criminals that it is okay, we understand, you were abused, is an enabling approach and creates an environment in which it is more difficult for persons already challenged by a deficiency in their upbringing to resist succumbing to the urges that may put them or others in harm’s way.
    I have seen many troubled youth in my 22 years of high school teaching. In the last three years I taught at schools where enabling was the guiding philosophy. Expectations were removed, both behaviorally and academically, from children whose home life was difficult. That is a form of prejudice and discrimination! They assumed those children were not capable of meeting standards, abdicating the responsibility the schools have to provide an example for responsible living in society. As a result, many of those students failed to improve, they took advantage of their ‘special’ circumstance to stay right where they were behaviorally and academically and, not being provided the same standards as other students, did not learn strategies to cope with failures and make improvement; their failures were excused away and allowed to continue. For many children school is the only hope for learning how to live and cope in society.

    My father was physically abusive. Regular beatings with a belt were common. My mother could not stop him. He enjoyed telling the story of the time he was whipping me with a belt and he was attacked by my young boxer dog, Mugsy. “I whipped his ass, too.” was his laughing conclusion. I was four and Mugsy was a little shy of one. That dog was my hero, I still have a picture of us together on the beach. Of my eleven siblings, two boys spent time in and out of the prison system. One of those two had a screwdriver swung into the back of his head by my father.

    But the rest of us have been productive members of society. How do you predict a turn for the bad? Not all abused children become criminals or abuse their children. How do you stop the cycle, mistreated children having children whom they in turn mistreat as well? Certainly not by condoning and excusing misbehavior. When more sympathy goes to the murderer than the victim and their families I am greatly concerned. You said society seems to understand when a woman attacks and kills her abuser. But this youth did not attack and kill his abuser, it was someone who tried to help him! You can not use that comparison in this case.

    Getting help for the abused after the fact is important, but it is often difficult to reverse the damage. Extricating a child from the physical environment certainly helps, but the emotional cauldron often continues to boil. I fostered a nine year-old girl years ago until I got word that her dangerous family was watching my house. With concerns for my pregnant wife, I made the decision to let someone else provide her care. Her drug-addicted and abusive mother still held her emotionally and lied to her continually about how hard she was working to get her back.

    It is easy to say we need to help these children, but what is it specifically that we can do? What programs work, from where do we get the funds, why is this not a bigger priority? America seems to not understand the ‘ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ adage. This is a huge problem to repair, confounded by the presumption of parental rights. Relatives of mine fostered well over a hundred children over many years and tell stories of having to send children back to parents who had done terrible things to them because of court orders.

    I believe strongly that holding children accountable is their only hope. If we give them the message that they are not ‘normal’ and transgressions don’t count against them they will have little chance of learning to manage their traumas and become integrated into the mainstream. I have seen many students flourish and turn things around when expectations were applied lovingly and with extra help to get them on track. And I have seen students for whom excuses were routinely made stay in the same place, feeling entitled to act out and do poorly because those behaviors were expected of them and accepted in their many years of schooling prior to meeting me.

    Right and wrong do exist, independent from a person’s upbringing. Applied consequences work; better to learn early rather than late. Natural consequences can be cruel indeed. Let’s not excuse away behaviors that are damaging to the individual or society. Two people were murdered here and a family has been scarred for life. And why? Because they chose to help someone who needed help.

    How about reports on what is, or at least seems to be working. Is the answer truly wait until something happens, then send them to prison for a while, then send them back out into society and see if it happens again? Are there juvenile offender programs that have a low rate of repeat offenders among former participants? Is there good news, are there hopeful possibilities out there?

    Thanks for raising awareness of this issue, for looking beyond the surface. I look forward to reading more from you!

    • Gary, Thank you for your thoughtful and personal response. I agree that ultimately we are reach responsible for our acts. Certainly Talen is saying that. “I’m 110% responsible.” For me the real question is how do we reduce this kind of violence. I think we miss the boat when we think of these killers as either “mentally ill (crazy)” or “evil.” Understanding that the seeds of later violence are sown in the experiences of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, helps us focus our prevention efforts.

      I agree with you that most people who are abused, neglected, and abandoned DO NOT go on to hurt other people. Many more later suffer from physical and emotional problems themselves. They hurt themselves more than they hurt others.

      As we focus more attention on the need for love, nurture, and support, and the impact that early childhood abuse has later in life, we can do a great deal to save lives, improve health, and create a world where we are all safer and happier.

  3. Bingo Jed!! All we need is love, love, love is all we need!! AHO brother!!

  4. Great article Jed and thank you for posting it.

    I believe that if we are ever going to stop these mass killings and violence, from young men, we need to address the cause. You have shone a light on the cause and we need to look at the relationships between men and women that lead to this. Divorce and separation are epidemic and its destroying our children and their hope for a future stable family.

    I believe the only way the we have a chance to reverse this trend is to teach our men and women and our boys and girls how to have “successful” long-term committed relationships. We can do this by first teach them the differences between men and women. Then we teach them to love, honour, respect, appreciate and embrace the differences between us. This is not some competition about who’s better or who’s smarter or who’s more capable. Its about appreciating what we each bring to the relationship. It’s about showing our children how we respect and treat our partner. This is where children learn the most about how to treat their partner.

    If we are not showing/teaching them then they will get it form TV, Movies, Commercials and other types of media and entertainment. These are deeply flawed forms of education and its the best that most young people get these days.

    I notice that when most young men get into trouble in the news we seldom see or hear from the fathers, its usually the mothers if anyone. The fathers are absent.

    Thanks for all that you do Jed,

  5. Fred Stevens says:

    Jed, I’ve read your article and the subsequent posts. You’ve a deeper understanding of this connection than any of us on this blog have reached. Our intentions are good and of the highest integrity, but violence and the isolation it breeds are killing us all, death by a thousand small cuts.
    We face the task of living free of violence and have to be willing to get our hands dirty digging into the dirt of just how violence is a cultural bedrock of our existence. It’s now an industrial commodity and for many a lifestyle and others an addiction. The social needs I think you’re calling for go this deep. It permeates the very air we breathe.
    To offer that I can understand the Talin’s of this world doesn’t necessarily enable them to do more damage. And here’s the therapeutic link I’m trying to understand: To understand and to forgive doesn’t let him off for his crimes. I wonder if the forgiveness is more like the foot in the door to enter empathically into the world of his anguish and pain? With this beginning is the possibility of self-understanding. With self-understanding comes the possibility to explore what makes him tick and those like him, too. I don’t think we’ve learned how to deal with the Talins but I bet if we can find a way to listen to them they will be our best-informed source for this solution.

  6. Bill Bright says:

    Jed

    Great topic. I don’t know that we can expect society to offer compassion for violent murders, I think at this moment in our history everything is a distraction. A warehouse is not an execution and so we are showing our high minded compassion by stacking them up out of site and out of mind. To look deeper forces the elimination of blaming and simple solution to complexities far too thoughtful for the average person who just wants to be left alone. Change is the responsibility of those who understand those issues well enough to even see another way, it is a form of evolution as I see it. If your voice is large enough and your presentation works something will be different in a small but definat way. I think that is the best we can expect

    • Bill, thanks for your feedback. I agree that change is slow, but little by little, people’s perceptions change and we get a more just and peaceful society.

  7. Well said Jed, and the ACE Study, Adverse Childhood Experiences, points directly toward early childhood traumas as being the source of most illness later in life.

    I worked for 10 years facilitating groups of men mandated by courts to attend a Domestic Violence, Domestic Abuse program. In almost every case, there was abuse or violence of some kind in the home when they were children. AND, in my opinion, because those programs are psycho-educational, do not go deep enough into their lives to create deep healing. Punishing them by placing them in “Correctional Facilities”, AKA Jails, also does not work in most cases. There are limitations to how much healing can happen there when there are acts of violence being perpetrated within the system. This leads to higher levels of trauma and PTSD and there are better solutions to treating those traumas than the currently accepted talk therapies.

    As you pointed out in your book “Men Alive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools”, Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT is highly successful in treating stress of any origin. This evidence based technique demonstrated a sustainable 85% success rate on combat PTSD with an average 63% reduction in symptoms in a very short period of time compared to traditional therapies. We need to be teaching this to more people because it can be self applied in some instances, however most traumatized people need assistance and guidance using this tool.

    Thank you for shedding more light on this terrible situation. There have been to many of them and Love is the answer.

    • Tom,

      It seems to me the tide is turning and more people are becoming aware of ACEs and how they impact our lives. Here’s a wonderful site that offers support to people (i.e. most all of us) who have suffered from childhood abuse, neglect, and abandonment. http://acestoohigh.com/

  8. vedaravishangar says:

    Namaskar,
    Thank you so much. My Respectful Shri/Mr. Jed Diamond. Today morning i am searching this concept, luckily i got your information, thank you to Super Natural Power/God. I am from South India. Research on Mind, Human energy, I am working on children, students, youth for enhancing brain power, channel their brain for wisdom, peace. Today every child lacking love, pure affection once they are not get their brain goes to danger because in around media, cinema, books and etc., channel their brain in wrong ways. Even they dont know how to do but they learn from in around thru all modern tools and apply on the spot. Thru the eyes of the person, we can find the root cause of the problem. Today fear is major impact for unhealthy situation. Let us join hands to eliminate such unhealthy situation, Unity of positive energy can do many wonder in this universe. Kindly send your email id, so i send more details and we discuss very deeply. thank you.
    vedaravishangar

    • Thanks for your kind response. Yes, we need to work together all over the world to bring about a more caring and healthy world, particularly for the boys who are not getting the love and support they need.

  9. Joe Hansem says:

    Sadly, the incompetence of Talen’s attorney played a big role in allowing this case to be dealt with in such a summary manner. I am really hoping some type of appellate review is sought of this outcome.

    • Joe,

      I’d like to hear more about that. Drop me a note at Jed@MenAlive.com (respond to my spamarrest filter if you’re writing for the first time.)

      • Joe Hansem says:

        Check the letters to the editor for this week and last at Anderson Valley Advertiser, “Where Was Linda” (his public defender) and “Ineffective Assistance”. Also look at a previous issue where the entire probation report with Dr. Apostle’s report appended was printed.
        http://theava.com/

        Someone who is charged with two murders , a 19 year old with mental issues no less, pleads out to 71 to Life six weeks after the crime? Not. She simply could not have done her due diligence in that brief period of time.

  10. Emelio Lizardo says:

    Give those lonely desperate young boys a girlfriend or mentoring cougar. Then you won’t have the despair, depression, and suicidal impulses that gave birth to all those Elliot Rodgers out there.

  11. Emelio Lizardo says: