Britain is stunned by kidnap-murder of 2-year-old boy


February 19, 1993|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON -- How many will cry for Jamie Bulger?

In a month from now? Six months? In a year will anybody other than his mother, his father, his uncles, with their composure nearly undone as they appeal to the public for calm, still weep?

The family will certainly remember, possibly for all their days. But how many others?

Probably quite a few. For Britain has been deeply disturbed by the murder of 2-year-old Jamie Bulger. There's no doubt about that. It is not just another child homicide, of which there have been a few here lately. It's something worse, if that can be imagined.

He appears to have been murdered by youngsters.

Today Jamie's face, the living face of a murdered child, the small frail head grinning above the collar of a green and white shirt, the eyes bright with a child's happiness, is fixed in the public's mind.

The photograph his family turned over to the police has been in every newspaper; it is still repeatedly shown on television.

Jamie's father has taken the fact in: Jamie is gone for good. They found him on Sunday by a railroad track. He had been hit by a train. But that's not what killed him.

He had been beatened to death and then hurled in the path of the train.

Denise Bulger, his mother, is said by a policewoman to be almost unhinged by the loss of her son, and so far unable to accept the tragedy that has detonated in her life.

One minute he was there by her side, last Friday in the butcher shop in The Strand Mall, in Bootle on the Mersey near Liverpool. Then he was gone, lured away by someone in the crowd.

That's how it began. There are pictures of Jamie being kidnapped, snapped by a security camera in the mall. The whole country has seen those as well -- over and over. The pictures may hold the key to the strange reaction this child murder has prompted, kind of a vast sense of desolation, of futile and undirected fury. It has driven people in the Merseyside communities to form up into street mobs, to threaten people the police have declared unconnected with the murder.

For the camera has given reason to the belief that Jamie's killer or killers were children themselves. That seems to be the factor that has ignited such a broad and deep public response. The murders of children by their parents, or by other adults described by the experts in such matters as sick, criminal, psychotic or whatever -- that's something people here have some experience with.

But the murder of a child, by children -- that moves the bounds of the unacceptable closer, causes the unthinkable to take shape.

And yet, that's what the pictures point to. They unveil the period preceding Jamie's death, piece by piece like a filmed serial; they reveal, though indistinctly, the form, the dress, if not the faces of the probable killers.

The pictures taken in the Strand Mall show Jamie Bulger walking away with a youngster, about 10 or 12. He is holding his hand.

Another security camera, about a block away, captured a scene 20 minutes later showing two youths dragging Jamie along, possibly against his will.

Then, 20 minutes later a woman with a dog saw the three. The child at that time was injured around the head. When she inquired, the youths said he had fallen. She told the police.

The railway lot was only two blocks away.

Two days after Jamie's body was found they arrested three youths. They released two the same day. On Wednesday the third, who is about 12, was let go.

But he is in hiding, and so is his family. A turbulent mob formed outside their Liverpool house. Arrests were made.

Another mob had formed outside the police headquarters in Bootle. They wanted action. Perhaps they wanted blood. But they were angrily dispersed, with the police complaining that such demonstrations forced them to pull officers off the investigation for crowd control purposes.

Today over a hundred police are to deploy throughout the Strand Mall to ask questions.

The rest of the country has nothing but questions as to why anyone would want to lure a toddler from his mother in a shopping mall, then to bludgeon him to death with such a mad ferocity.

People from all across Britain call up television and radio stations with their questions.

Sociologists and psychiatrists, criminologists and not a few pundits of journalism, dredge up hackneyed explanations.

But nobody has any answers that explain adequately, possibly because there aren't any. People write letters of condolence to the Bulger family.

They send flowers.

The wreaths are piled up at the railway track, where he was found, with notes attached.

One read: "Why and who?"

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