Autumn Pasquale and Jessica Ridgeway cases: The moms who turned in their sons

Autumn Pasquale and Jessica Ridgeway were both allegedly abducted by underage boys in separate attacks. The alleged killers of Autumn and Jessica were turned in by their own moms – an act of courageous parenting that deserves acknowledgment.

Mel Evans/AP
Autumn Pasquale and Jessica Ridgeway were both murdered in separate incidents in New Jersey and Colorado. Here, Michelle Hoffman reads a note left at a memorial for Autumn Pasquale in Clayton, N.J.

We would walk through fire, lift buses and fight to the death to protect our children from harm, but how far would we go to protect other children from our own child?

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This week, we read about the murders of two young girls, Jessica Ridgeway, 10, in Colorado and Autumn Pasquale, 12, in New Jersey and realize the pain their mothers must feel at having lost their daughters. Then we see the mothers of the killers who turned in their own sons for these heinous crimes: We must try to hold on to our own humanity long enough to feel for their different kind of parental loss.

Mindy Sigg’s 17-year-old son confessed to the abduction and killing of Jessica in Colorado. According to published reports, her son Austin Reed Sigg is charged in the death of Jessica and in a separate attack on a 22-year-old runner, who managed to break free, in May.

Prosecutors say he confessed in both cases after his mother phoned police and he turned himself in. Investigators allege there is overwhelming DNA evidence against him. He was ordered held without bail; prosecutors are expected to formally charge him next week.

In New Jersey, Anita Saunders turned in her two sons, ages 15 and 17, for murder after reading their posts on Facebook. Her boys are now charged with murdering 12-year-old Autumn, allegedly lured to Saunders’s home by her sons with the promise of new bike parts.

These mothers, who turned their sons in for justice and perhaps for their sons’ own good, made personal sacrifice that is difficult to imagine, yet it is the ultimate act of parenting.

I have four boys, and if one were the victim I would find it impossible to see the child who had killed him as human, let alone as someone’s child. I would find it nearly beyond reason to feel sorry for the murderer’s mother, but I would be grateful beyond imagining to her for giving me my child’s killer.

Both of these mothers, Ms. Sigg and Ms. Saunders, did what was right for society by turning their children in to police. I have seen that kind of sacrifice and wrenching personal pain on my own mother’s face. Because of that I can see in them, the truth of their position as parents who did their best, but still their child failed the humanity test.

For close to 20 years I have stood by my own mother as she wrestled with the decision, time after time, of whether or not to call police when my younger, mentally ill brother, committed violent crimes. She would never call when he beat her or stole from her but when he, at age 23, described to us how he had attempted to strangle a pregnant teenage runaway, Mom and I turned him in and testified against him before a New Jersey Grand Jury.

Mom was devastated, but hoped by doing the right thing she could get help for my brother. And I hoped we could finally stop jumping each time we opened the newspaper, concerned that someone was harmed by someone we love.

It wasn’t the end.

The victim ran away again before the trial and my brother was released.  He is now free, age 42, homeless somewhere in either New Jersey or New York and, given his string of arrests for more violence, I believe is dangerous. I know that she will be the one to turn him in if it happens, but it's hard to contemplate her, at age 82, having to do that again.

Prayer is all we have now and the knowledge we have done the right things by standing with the victims and not our own flesh and blood.

Back in 2010, Susan Jackson famously turned in her son Jason, then 28, for a double-murder in a drug deal gone bad. He pleaded guilty and was given a life sentence.

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At the time she told reporters, "He's my child. I still love him as a mother loves her child, but I can't condone what he's done.”

In all these cases, and many more not in the headlines of the moment, the child failed the parent, but the parent did not fail to retain her values. In the end she kept right on parenting, leading by example even when leading meant walking through the fire with only hope to cling to for emotional survival.

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