The suspicious behavior of the two girls browsing in a Manhattan Victoria’s Secret store a few weeks ago got the attention of some store personnel and a security officer, so they decided to alert police. And the unusual smell coming from one of the girls’ shopping bags was also drawing attention. When investigators arrived, it probably didn’t surprise them to find some goods in the girls’ bags that probably didn’t belong there. But nothing could have prepared them for what else they uncovered in one of the bags: a dead infant. One of the girls, Tiona Rodriguez, explained that she had “miscarried” the day before, after just 6 months of pregnancy, and simply didn’t know what else to do. But even though the investigation into the circumstances surrounding this bizarre event is in its early stages, there’s already plenty of evidence to suggest the 17 year-old’s story has some big holes holes in it. So now, Rodriguez and her friend and shopping companion, Francis Estevez, are facing some pretty serious charges. The pair has already been arraigned on charges of shoplifting more than $200.00 worth of clothes, cosmetics, and a smartphone case, but far more serious charges will likely be forthcoming in the weeks ahead, once more detailed information is obtained.
When the two teens appeared in court for their preliminary hearing, several observers were struck by some very stark contrasts in their behavior. Most remarkable was the stoic, emotionless demeanor of the young mother of the deceased infant. She appeared to show no signs of being deeply affected by the remarkable events of the past several days. By contrast, her friend wept openly and displayed other sentiments in line with the nature of the proceedings and its subject matters. This led some to speculate about what could possibly be going on inside the mind of Rodriguez, who in addition to appearing unshaken during the proceedings, so nonchalantly carried her dead child around in a shopping mall during her shoplifting escapade. And it’s the speculations and assumptions made by some that for me are almost as unsettling as the tragic events themselves.
No one really knows what to make of Rodriguez. One of her neighbors described her as a “good girl” who simply got caught up in a bad situation (a good girl, that is, who just happened to go casually shoplifting with a dead baby in tow). And in response to observations about Rodriguez’s unusual demeanor, her attorney stated that one could only imagine what the young teen must be feeling. Anyone, adult or child, would simply have to be traumatized by the situation, he insisted. Still others have conjectured that the youngster must either be suffering from some type of psychological disorder such as post-traumatic stress, or is in a deep state of denial. But some less sympathetic folks have suggested in their comments on the teen’s Facebook page that she is a habitually irresponsible character whose reasons for doing what she did are almost irrelevant when viewed in the context of her ample record of dysfunctional social functioning. As is the usual case in matters of this sort, Rodriguez will undergo a full psychiatric evaluation.
Investigators will take their time sifting through the facts and evidence, because there are ample reasons Rodriguez (and possibly even those close to her) cannot be trusted to provide an accurate version of events. As mentioned earlier, the girl claimed she miscarried at six months but the medical examiner’s preliminary findings suggest the baby was born alive at nearly full term (8 1/2 months) and may have died later of asphyxiation (water was found in the child’s lungs and the bathtub in the teen’s home is being combed for evidence of possible drowning). Rodriguez also claimed she was ignorant about pregnancy matters and had no idea about the particulars of a delivery but she apparently is also the mother of another child, a 2 year-old son, and has posted on her Facebook about her pregnancy progress and even posted she knew the cramps she was having was a sign she would soon be delivering another child. She also posted that she knew she needed to find a job and reported on the progress (or lack thereof) she was having so far on job interviews.
Until all the evidence is in, we’ll be left to speculate about many of the reasons this tragic event occurred. But there are some possibilities many of us simply don’t like to consider. Most of us are reluctant to think this is yet another tragic example of a teen entering young adulthood without the attributes of character necessary not only to function in the role of mother but also to pay due heed to and abide by the rules of responsible social functioning. We might be even more reluctant to think that the reason Rodriguez displayed no signs of being sufficiently bothered by events is that she simply lacks the empathy necessary not only to feel the way a mother ought to feel about a child she’s bringing into the world but also to develop the kind of social conscience that makes a person feel bad about the idea of taking something that doesn’t belong to them, behaving in other irresponsible ways, or being neglectful (or perhaps even deliberately abusive) to the point that it caused the loss of a human life (and there’s evidence that we’re much more reluctant to entertain these notions when it comes to appraising the character of females as opposed to males). That’s one of the main reasons I felt compelled to write Character Disturbance. I wanted to sound the alarm about what I consider to be the defining phenomenon of our age.
Ours is an age in which a variety of socio-cultural factors are arresting the development of sound character in too many of our young persons. And while arguments can certainly be made to the contrary, it’s my assertion that these character development delays and impairments are behind many of the societal ills that plague us and many of the tragic events that make headlines from time to time. Moreover, when folks assume that the perpetrators of the heinous acts we so often hear about simply must feel like anyone ought to feel about their actions or simply must be suffering from some kind of illness – simply because they can’t imagine why else someone would do such things or that anyone could be so heartless or otherwise deeply flawed in character – we only help perpetuate the problem.
The fact that a newborn infant died and was nonchalantly carried around in a bag during a shoplifting spree is tragic enough. But the greater tragedy is that far too many folks these days are significantly arrested in their character development, and lack sufficient empathy, social awareness, moral compass, regard for life, respect for property, and self-discipline (in other words, lack sufficient maturity of conscience) to function responsibly in society and to profit from past mistakes. Compounding the tragedy is the fact that we have neither taken seriously enough the nature and extent of the crisis we face and its impact on all areas of our lives (economic, social, academic, political, etc.) nor have we made the decision to tackle it head-on. When events like the Rodriguez case occur, they rightfully should unnerve us. And when the principal actors in these kinds of dramas seem completely unfazed by their actions, it should unnerve us even more. It’s understandable that we might enter into a state of denial in the face of such things. But as is always the case with denial, it does not serve us well in the end. We have a monumental problem before us and if we don’t fully recognize and accept it, we certainly don’t have a prayer of appropriately addressing it or, hopefully, overcoming it.