"What happened is a terrible thing, but I know that my kids have nothing to do with it. I know it. I am mother. I know my kids. I know my kids. Really, my kids would never get involved with anything like that."
- Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, mother of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
When a young adult is accused of a significant crime, the parents' reactions often seem ridiculous.
Take the Tsarnaev parents, whose sons Tamerlan and Dzhokhar are accused of carrying out the Boston bombings. First, their father referred to one of the kids as a "true angel." Then this week, at the same time the surviving son was admitting his involvement to investigators from his hospital bed, his mother was denying they were capable of the Boston bombings.
It's a typical response: My baby couldn't have done it.
I've seen a similar pattern when looking at recent killings of children in Tucson. The parents of the accused killers have a hard time imagining their own kids as killers, let alone as killers of kids.
From a remove, it looks awfully naive. Yet when you consider their reactions, they're not only natural but probably a good thing - to a point.
After I wrote about Kristepher Benavidez a month ago, his mother invited me to their south-side home and I was able to see this accused child-killer from a broader perspective. Benavidez, 25, is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 18-month-old daughter Adyson Gaxiola, who died March 15, but his mother, Penny Borbon, doesn't believe he did it.
"That's the perspective of somebody who has no idea who my son is," she told me.
She pointed to a key part of my column to make her point. I quoted a presentence report prepared for the court that said Benavidez is a heroin addict who started taking the drug when he was "devastated" to learn he might be the father of a girlfriend's child. That was the opposite of the truth, Borbon said.
Benavidez started taking heroin earlier, and he was devastated when he learned that he was not the father of the child, whom he had been helping to raise for nine months, Borbon said. She showed me a scrapbook of happy pictures of Benavidez with the baby Clayton.
After a paternity test showed he was not the father, "It hurt him so bad," she said.
That doesn't make Benavidez innocent of killing Adyson, but it does give a new perspective on his feeling about kids. And it makes me happy he has such a defender, if only to be sure he is treated fairly in court.
Similarly, the parents of Jeremy Millis refused to believe that their son is a killer, though he's charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 30 death of 8-month-old Connor Kroviak. Millis, 28, told investigators that he grew frustrated with the baby's crying and choked him for 10 seconds at a time, three or four times, according to a complaint filed by a Pima County Sheriff's Office deputy.
In a Feb. 2 letter requesting that his bail be reduced, David and Becky Millis said "Jeremy has always been gentle and kind toward babies and children and has been a wonderful and caring father to his son."
They added, "He doesn't have a violent bone in his body. Never was he even in a fight at school."
Their appeal for a lower bond didn't work, and he remains jailed.
I asked Dave Harvey, the Ph.D. counselor who heads Community Provider of Enrichment Services, how parents ought to treat their accused children in these situations. In general, he said, the parents should support the child.
"Their parents, no matter how upset or angry they are, should be there for the child. They should reinforce that the bond is there," he said.
But that love and support should not necessarily be "unconditional," said Harvey, who has worked for more than three decades in counseling, in the juvenile court and with Child Protective Services, among other settings.
Parents should communicate, he added, that "You're going to be loved, but we want you to put your life in a better place, for you to be a better citizen."
A notorious Tucson murder case put parents' diverse reactions in stark, sickening relief. Kajornsak Prasertphong, then 20, and Christopher "Bo" Huerstel, then 17, were both accused of murder in the triple-slaying at an east-side Pizza Hut on Jan. 17, 1999.
After the original conviction in the trial, Prasertphong's mother "could not apologize enough to us for what happened," said Tucsonan Kathy Weir, whose brother, Robert Curry, was killed at the Pizza Hut. Weir came to sympathize deeply with her and her son.
But Huerstel's mother, Stacey Sage, and other family members stayed in a state of denial through the end of the long criminal case, even when Huerstel finally pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder in 2007.
"She just felt that her child was totally innocent. He was just in a bad place at a bad time with a bad person," Weir said of Sage's view.
I imagine my journalist self would probably scoff at my reaction as a father if I were ever in that situation. But I would hope all of us could provide that vital support to our children while at the same time keeping in mind we may need to accept a sickening reality in the long run.
Contact columnist Tim Steller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8427. On Twitter @senyorreporter