Six-and-a-half minutes

For six-and-a-half minutes, motorists in central California watched a crazed man beat and kick his toddler son to death by the side of the road. Three people called 911. Two men tried to persuade the man to stop. According to the San Jose Mercury News, they grappled with him but were pushed away. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, nobody intervened physically. He kept beating the two-year-old boy till a police officer landed in a helicopter and shot him to death. It was too late to save the child’s life. The passers-by weren’t trained to deal with a madman, say police. Their hesitation was understandable. Was it?

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  1. Freezing in an emergency is pretty common. Police and EMTs are trained to work normally in situations that the rest of us see as emergencies.

    I recently read an account by a trained person who came across an accident. Note where his training takes over: “Last week I came upon a truck vs. scooter accident on my way home. I could hear a woman yelling in pain from underneath the truck (a good sign!) …”

    I’m sure that when he heard her yelling, he relaxed a bit. That ruled out several life-threatening problems. She was obviously alert and breathing, which are big pluses. Would you relax or would you tense up?

    Go read the rest here:

    Yes, he applies it to fixing web servers in an emergency, but that is the same point I’m making. As Jesse Robins (the author above) says, being effective in an emergency requires “people with a common desire or duty to act, training on how to act, and experience actually doing it.”

    According to reports, the people watching had the desire to act, but without the other essentials, we can’t expect them to effectively help. If they do, they are heroes, but if they don’t, we cannot call them villains.

  2. Robert Wright says:

    My first thought was, why didn’t these people physically intervene? What’s wrong with them?

    I mean, I would have, right?


    And I know this because one night while I was taking out the garbage, I saw a man attempting to kidnap a woman. He was smacking her and trying to shove her into his car. She was resisting and was covered with blood. I yelled at him to stop and I charged toward him but I knew full well that once I got within 50 feet that I wouldn’t get any closer. I had no reason to believe he wouldn’t bloody me as well. I wanted my desire to save this woman to just push aside my fear. I wanted to be a hero but the fear of getting my head bashed in by a guy who I saw was quite capable of doing just that became a wall I couldn’t get past. The whole thing was unexpected, it happened fast, and there was blood. And, right or wrong, instinct took over and demanded I not get too close.

    Fortunately, he let go of her and took off before I got within 50 feet. But the fact is, there was a crisis, I was faced with fear, and fear won.

    Remembering that, I can’t blame those people who didn’t physically intervene. Not at all. I’m sure they did the best they could.

  3. I am pretty sure I would not have have either, particularly if I had my children with me. My instinct to protect myself is pretty strong on it’s own; protecting my kids even moreso. I’d like to think I’d try to do something to help other than call 911.

  4. SteveSC says:

    Considering that the police (who are presumably trained and have experience dealing with violent people) ran out of options and shot the guy, I don’t think the bystanders could have done much. The guy flipped, and it sounds like he was like one of those fighting dogs who will keep biting the other dog even when clubbed over the head until nearly unconscious. Unfortunately, people who weren’t there will blame the witnesses, who are already traumatized by their inability to save the child. Sad for everyone… sometimes bad things in life can’t be prevented.

  5. This incident happened only a few miles from where I live and it was on the news for days. We are all aghast that something so heinous could happen, especially when everyone who knew the father who did this says he was always a rational person. Something went terribly wrong that night when he thought his son had a demon in him that must be killed.

    This area is known for high crime rates. We are the meth capital of the nation, and so much violent crime happens that we have become immune to it. Calling for police help is about all we can do when faced with crazed criminal behavior.

    As an aside, we see lots of violent behavior in our school, and we are told to not put ourselves in harm’s way. We have two police officers on campus who can take care of the miscreants.

  6. And reading the above, I know why there are fewer sheepdogs in the world.

    Would I have helped? you betcha. No young child would be beaten to death in front of me without me trying to shop the man by whatever means necessary to protect the child and myself.

    No one will ever know if 3 or 4 people joining forces would have stopped the man.

    I liken it to the opposite of “Let’s Roll” on 9/11.

  7. Margo/Mom says:

    I do see evidence of people doing something. Three or more called 911. Several talked to the man. Some “grappled with” him but were pushed away. We can think of lots in retrospect at a safe distance. Very sad, nonetheless.

  8. Mrs. Davis says:

    Ultimately, the question here is would you be willing to kill someone to stop him from killing his own child. Because that’s what the police had to do. That’s a very tough call.

  9. Reading of situations like this really makes me sick. Not because of the inaction of the witnesses; I don’t blame them. The fault lies with the culture that produces people who respond like this. It’s ingrained in us: “don’t be a hero”; “let the professionals handle it.”

    As long as we as a society have this attitude we deserve to read stories like this; lots of them.

  10. Being a woman with no upper body strength, I wouldn’t be able to take the guy on with much of a weapon. Even if I had a tire iron or a bat, I wouldn’t be able to attack him with it because I would be too worried about him grabbing it and turning it on me. If I was tackling the guy, it would be just because I wanted him to turn his attention on me instead of the child, not because I would think I could actually make him stop. A gun would have been very handy and I would have had no problem using it on a man beating up a child.

    But it seems that the people analyzed the situation and did nothing because they knew the child was already “gone”. That makes it a different ballgame and these people weren’t going to put their life in danger to rescue a dead body. But I guess the police didn’t have the same idea since they shot him.

  11. greifer says:

    —Ultimately, the question here is would you be willing to kill someone to stop him from killing his own child. Because that’s what the police had to do. That’s a very tough call.


    In case you don’t know that, let me repeat it for you:


  12. Suppose you intervene and as a result permanently injure the guy, but don’t kill him. He then sues you in to bankruptcy. Is there anyone who doesn’t find that a plausible scenario?

    With regard to andyo, this is also part of the “let experts handle it”, in which citizen participation is discouraged through punishment for intervening, i.e. the legal risk. 50 years ago, the law and juries would have been so solidly on the side of the intervener that no one would worry about that. Today, it’s the opposite.

  13. Cardinal Fang says:

    —Ultimately, the question here is would you be willing to kill someone to stop him from killing his own child. Because that’s what the police had to do. That’s a very tough call.


    It’s an easy call in hindsight, no doubt about that. But in the heat of the moment, not so much.

    Would I have had the presence of mind, the courage and the ability to physically put myself in between the baby and the killer, to keep the killer from hitting the baby? I’d like to think so, but that would have taken a lot of guts and quick thinking. In honesty, I don’t think I would have been up to the challenge, and I don’t think the majority of other people would have been, either.

    Even if I had been willing to kill the man to stop him, how would I, or any bystander, have done that?

  14. Ben-David says:

    Come on – you are telling me 3-4 people working together could not immobilize 1 man?

    This is sickening – and I am certain many of the bystanders were worried about being sued, as previous posters indicated.

  15. Bill Leonard says:

    Several points:

    1. You observe a clearly deranged man. Are you really able to take him on, knowing at some primal level that he might turn and attempt to stomp you to death, too — especially, take him on when you don’t know what weapons he might have?

    2. As has been pointed out already, you whack him upside the head with a ball bat or tire iron. He’s permanently injured, and sues you. And every thoughtful adult here must know intuitively that such is a very likely outcome. Assuming you aren’t bankrupted by it all, can you afford the time and cost of defending yourself in court?

    3. As above. But in the aftermath, you get to answer a lot of questions, and probably, in most states, face potential charges for illegally carrying a weapon in your car — unless you can prove conclusively that you had the time and presence of mind to retrieve same from the trunk of your car.

    4. Like the police officer, you stop this asshole with a bullet (a very good conclusion, in my judgement). But unless you have a concealed carry permit, or can prove — at least in California, land of vicious and profoundly stupid gun laws — that you had time to get into your trunk, unlock your weapon, load it from ammunition also carried in the locked trunk, then stop the guy, you will be looking at felony charges of several types.

    Now, then, realistically, how many of you good samaritans would in fact have done much of anything more than call 911?


  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    I find it vanishingly unlikely that any of the bystanders were deterred from intervening by fear of a lawsuit. The guy was crazy and violent– they were, understandably, afraid of being beaten up.

  17. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I would have done my best to protect the child. I have had to confront violent men a few times, because a man must.

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    Not trained?
    Why not? Isn’t being able to take care of business part of being a citizen? An adult?
    Training reduces the freeze potential.
    Might get hurt?
    That’s a kid there. If the choice is you get hurt or the kid gets hurt, the choice is you get hurt. That’s your obligation.
    I’ve intervened physically in four situations where others were being attacked. Fortunately, I won them. But I didn’t know I would, going in. However, the result of losing would be, for sure, the other guy would be too tired to enjoy having won and the victim would have had time to escape.

    Misha, at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler, has a long post and nearly 100 comments on the thing. “special hell” is the title of his post.

    If you’re not trained, get trained. If you don’t go armed–whatever weapon that means–start going armed.

    Otherwise, you may live the rest of your life in a very special hell–and deserve it.

  19. “That’s a kid there. If the choice is you get hurt or the kid gets hurt, the choice is you get hurt. That’s your obligation.”

    Um, why? I know it’s popular to think that children must be protected at all costs, but I do not expect someone to put their own life at risk for a child they don’t even know (I *would* expect a parent to put themselves in harm’s way to protect their offspring). Their lives are not more important than an adult’s. Of course if there is a reasonable chance that you can overpower the guy, then it’s a risk you should take. But when someone is going completely psycho, those chances diminish. I’m a woman with almost no upper-body strength and would most likely not be able to fend off an attack by a deranged madman.

  20. Richard Aubrey says:

    Okay, Julie.
    Your choice.
    Wrong choice. But yours.

    No upper body strength.
    That can be rectified by carrying one or another household implement, automotive implement, personal implement which will double as a weapon.

  21. Margo/Mom says:

    Julie says: “I know it’s popular to think that children must be protected at all costs, but I do not expect someone to put their own life at risk for a child they don’t even know.”

    I can easily forgive adults who were there and couldn’t overcome fear/inertia, whatever it is that freezes one in such situations. But to defend this as a choice because they didn’t even know the kid–that is irresponsible. It brings to mind the anti-it-takes-a-village types, the childfree-by-choice philosophy and others who choose to regard child-rearing as a hobby.

    I hope when you get old, Julie, you have raised some children who “know you” and will take care of you.

  22. “I can easily forgive adults who were there and couldn’t overcome fear/inertia, whatever it is that freezes one in such situations. But to defend this as a choice because they didn’t even know the kid–that is irresponsible.”
    I didn’t mean to imply that it’s okay to stand there and think, “Hmmm…I don’t know this person, so I’ll just stand back here and watch.” Simply saying that when there is a familiar bond between two people, it will often be the person’s first instinct to rush and protect the other. So yes, if I saw my 12-year-old cousin being attacked by a lunatic, I’d rush in and try to help w/o a second thought. If it was a 12-year-old I didn’t know, and the guy looked like he could overpower me with one blow, then probably not. Not because of any conscious calculation on my part, it’s not like I’d be thinking, “Hell, I don’t even know that kid, so sucks to be them,” but mainly because of pure animal instinct. Maybe you personally would have an equally strong urge to protect a random stranger as you would your own child, but I wouldn’t have that sort of animal instinct. At least, it wouldn’t be enough to overpower the fear that the guy would kill me.

    Personally…if I were in danger, of course I would want someone to save me. Who wouldn’t? And, if the person could do so without seriously risking death to himself, I would say that it’s a moral obligation. But if the would-be rescuer had a serious chance of getting gravely injured or being killed, I wouldn’t blame him for not getting involved. That’s the issue. Is it okay to demand that people step in and intervene even when doing so is likely to cause great physical injury or even death? I don’t think it is.

    This reminds me of the news story where a father sued a woman for not rescuing his son from drowning. The woman couldn’t swim…but still, y’know, she should’ve TRIED, according to the dad. Everything I’ve heard about rescuing drowning victims says that, unless you are a strong swimmer, you shouldn’t attempt it. The drowning victim will be in a panic and will be likely to try and drown you as well (I almost drowned as a kid, so I can say that this definitely happens). Would you argue that a person who isn’t a strong swimmer (or in the woman’s case, couldn’t swim at all) has the obligation to try and rescue a drowning victim anyway? I say no.

  23. Margo/Mom says:

    Actually, what is recommended for any rescuer in a potential drowning is to attempt the rescue without getting in the water with the victim. The old “throw anything that will float” advice. Reach with anything available.

    Certainly training is the best means of ensuring that the first instinct is to take the most appropriate action. But a belief that there is a lesser obligation to non-kin is likely to figure into that split second when action is taken, or not.

  24. LibraryGryfon says:

    The real point here is that there were 5 or 6 people who watched this happen, at least 3 of them were male (usually heavier with better upper body strength), and at least one was a volunteer fire fighter. And they gave up when they were merely “pushed away”?

    If there had only been one person witnessing this act then, yes, I wouldn’t fault them, but I’d think that five or more adults ought to be able to overpower one crazed lunatic and immobilize him long enough to pull the child away. And they did have cars – each a ton or more of legal, lethal metal. Have one person drive their car at the guy with an other one or two to drag the child out of the way when he’s knocked off balance or out of the way.

  25. Richard Aubrey says:

    Preparation is a choice.
    You can choose to work out, or not.
    You can choose to play high-contact sports, or not.
    You can choose to take tennis to get a PE class credit, or judo.
    You can game out situations, or think about Dancing with The Stars.
    You can arm yourself, or not.
    You can think of yourself as one kind of person, or as another.

    You can visit neo-neocon’s archives for the threads on sheep and sheepdogs.

  26. “Actually, what is recommended for any rescuer in a potential drowning is to attempt the rescue without getting in the water with the victim.”

    Well yes, if that’s possible then that’s obviously the best response. This would go into my belief that one IS morally obligated to assist by any means possible as long as you are not in serious danger yourself. But if there are no floaty devices, no lifesaver jacket, no hunk of wood, etc. that you can throw into the water, and the only option for rescue is that the non-swimmer goes into the water to try and drag the victim out him/herself, do you think that the non-swimmer is thereby obligated?

    “But a belief that there is a lesser obligation to non-kin is likely to figure into that split second when action is taken, or not.”

    Perhaps, and I’m not saying that that’s the ideal. But most likely it’s not a conscious choice on anyone’s part. If it were a conscious choice, then I’d agree that it is callous and irresponsible. But it’s like how a mother might get enough adrenaline to lift a car that’s crushing their kid (unless that’s an urban legend). It’s just a sort of protective animalistic instinct that comes over you when it’s someone you have a strong personal bond with. In that situation, INSTINCT > FEAR. In a situation w/ a random stranger, FEAR > INSTINCT. (Either way, I probably wouldn’t be thinking too logically, or with a clear head.)

    And it’s not just children — if someone were hurting my mother, I’d jump into the fray even if it seemed inevitable that I would die as a result. But not where a stranger is concerned. Because then (most likely) the fear would overpower any protective instinct that I might possess. Once again, it wouldn’t be a detached and clinical decision on my part. Either way I’d be scared outta my head.

    Can anybody really say with complete honesty that they’d go to the same length to rescue someone they don’t know, as opposed to a family member? Would you rush into a burning building if you knew that Mr. Joe Smith was trapped in there? What if it was your grandmother?

  27. Julie, I agree with you. An emotional connection makes the risk of your own life for another more likely.

    Also, not everyone responds to traumatic experiences with a clear head and good solutions. Does that make them all uncaring evil people? Does that make them all worthless human beings? If you think so, it tells you more about yourself than it does about the non-intervener.

    Last point, just because you SAY you will respond in a certain way, doesn’t mean you actually will when faced with that situation in real life. If you think you can always predict your actions, especially under duress, you are either a liar or God.

  28. sorry, not so clear in my post. the last two paragraphs were NOT directed at Julie. Just the first paragraph.

  29. Richard Aubrey says:

    ns. Nice excuse for not bothering.
    Those who have faced such issues already know. Because they tried.
    Uncaring and evil?
    Nope. Useless oxygen wasters.
    If you won’t, or can’t, get it together to try to save a child, what good are you? Won’t or can’t. Either one, same question.

  30. Cardinal Fang says:

    It seems a little odd to demand that everyone train to be prepared to rescue toddlers from maniacs trying to beat them up. This isn’t a challenge most people will ever face. Wouldn’t it make more sense to learn CPR?

  31. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cardinal. Why not both? I’ve taken half a dozen CPR classes, as you need to be periodically recertified.
    I saved a guy’s life, the EMT people told me, because of some serious first aid I learned in the Army.
    And the idea that there is a specific prep for saving an infant under attack by a maniac is absurd.
    The same training works for any physical violence, which you may very well see, although lacking in attacks on two-year olds.
    But nice try for an excuse.

  32. Cardinal Fang says:

    I’m supposed to train to stop a violent maniac? What training do you suggest, and how much training would I need before I would be able to do it? It sounds pretty dubious to me.

    On the other hand, as far as saving the drowning victim, that I’m ready for.

  33. SuperSub says:

    I think the point is that while any given individual may have honest reasons for not intervening (such as being obviously physically lacking to confront the man), there are those who were capable to challenge the man, especially in a group. All it would have taken is one person to try to find one or two others and they could have likely restrained the man.
    I don’t blame any of the individuals for not responding… I blame our society for raising passive bystanders who are unwilling to put themselves at risk for the sake of others. This incident shows this, but the problem is also shown in many other aspects of our current society (Iraq and Afghanistan for example). I’m not asking for people to act suicidal, but to be willing to confront horrendous injustices such as the brutal killing of a child.
    Our country was founded on the ideal that certain basic principles are more important than even an individual’s life. Through a sense of communal spirit, Americans (trained or not) have laid down their lives to protect others. This incident is a sad reflection of how our society has changed due to the complacency that accompanies prosperity.

  34. Richard Aubrey says:

    Well, you could carry a gun.
    Or you could spend six months in one of the dojos which are apparently in every other strip mall.
    Or you could decide that, while he’s doing his maniac thing, you come up behind him–best bet–and brain him with a rock, tire iron, put a pen behind his ear as hard as you can.
    If you were interested in something besides an excuse, you wouldn’t have asked.
    Fact is, Cardinal, millions are prepared, one way or another.
    Tens of millions.
    To not be prepared and to not be willing are choices, not cosmic accidents.

  35. Cardinal Fang says:

    Six months at a dojo and I could stand up to a deranged maniac? I think you’re overestimating the average middle aged woman. Maybe I could do that if I lived in the dojo and worked out eight hours a day. Maybe.

    SuperSub, where is your evidence that people nowadays are less likely to confront someone like the babykiller than people used to be? I’m not taking a position one way or the other, but I’d like to know the basis of your belief.

  36. Richard Aubrey says:

    I didn’t say “stand up”. You can do enough to get his attention. The victim escapes. What happens to you after that is not the point.

    Or, as I say, there are weapons.

  37. It would seem we haven’t come very far at all since Kitty Genovese.

  38. I must be crazy. I would have tackled the guy, literally without thinking about it. No worries about lawsuits, no worries about my own safety. How do I know this? I have reacted similarly in crisis situations in the past. For instance, on a field trip to the beach, six middle school students were caught in a riptide and breaking waves, clearly in trouble. I swam out to them without even thinking about it (I was a substitute teacher, and these kids were from my school, but not my kids). Predictibly, the six of them all immediately grabbed me and immediately put my life at risk. The lifeguards who saved us as I nearly drowned later told another teacher that at least two of the kids would definitely gone down if I hadn’t have swum out there.

    I don’t think I’m a hero, or even brave. The thing I worry about, and question, is why doesn’t everybody act this way?

  39. Cardinal Fang says:

    This is nothing like the Kitty Genovese incident, at least according to the Merc’s account.

    a pickup truck with three people in their 20s pulled up, facing Aguiar’s truck. One of them called 911. A young man, who Singh hasn’t identified, jumped out and ran to help Robinson….

    The two men wrestled with Aguiar, trying to get him to stop, trying to pull him away from the baby. But Aguiar, with the child in his arm, kept attacking the toddler, “punching, slapping, shaking,” Singh said.

    Then finally to stop him, the sheriff shot him. According to this account, the witnesses weren’t just standing there, at all. They tried to save the baby, and they failed.

  40. Richard Aubrey says:

    Cardinal. One report had the fire chief turning on the emergency flashers.
    But, if the report is true, the folks were not prepared. One punch to the—take your pick–and he’d have quit pestering the child.