How to Explain a Tragedy? HOWARD COUNTY

April 05, 1993

It is hard to find words that best describe the case of Alton Romero Young, the Howard County 17-year-old who was sentenced last week to life imprisonment for raping and strangling his teacher. Tragic seems as close to the mark as any.

No one, including the public that watched this case unfold from the sidelines, could walk away and not feel stunned and dispirited. So many questions come to mind. So few answers suffice.

In a statement written to the presiding judge in the trial, the husband of the murdered woman expressed how difficult it is to comprehend the effects of such a crime.

"How do you describe the death of your soul?" Wayne Mullinix wrote. "How do you depict every day that starts and ends with 'why'? How do you rebuild a life when all substance has disintegrated? When, if ever, will joy return?"

We wouldn't pretend to know the answers.

Certainly there were signs that the youth who committed this crime was deeply troubled. His public defender described a child born out of wedlock to a mother who was a child herself. The father, a habitual criminal, took little interest in his son. School officials described a depressed, defiant, resentful boy, who often acted on impulse.

In fact -- and this is the frightening part -- the profile of the teen-ager is not much different from that of an alarming number of children. The evidence can be seen in the number of births to unwed mothers, children living in poverty and crimes committed by juveniles. And yet, not all troubled youths commit murder.

What amount of intervention was tried on the boy through the years is unknown. Certainly, he was not without a caring mother. She collapsed as she left the courtroom after his sentencing. How much guilt and remorse she feels, one can only imagine.

In a statement he read in court before being sentenced for the murder and rape of Shirley Mullinix, the youth pleaded vainly for compassion. "I can only wish I can undo the wrongs that I've done," he said. "In my heart, I still feel I can be rehabilitated. I know I can change."

It was too late. No amount of talk could justify the crime, or answer the question "why?," or put an end to the enormous pain that was caused. Tragic was about all that could be said.

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