It has become as familiar to us as the candlelight vigils at the crime scene.
The modest house in a quiet neighborhood. The curtains drawn, the media camped out in the street. The neighbor's description of a family that kept to itself. And then the statement.
The family is stunned. This is not the child they knew and loved. They are grieving, for that child as well as his victims. They apologize and offer prayers.
Soon enough, the rest of this story will play out — again — for us.
The child was troubled, and the family should have seen it. They should have seen the diary or the essays or the drawings or the website or the videos.
They ignored the signs, they ignored the concerns of teachers. They should have gotten him help, and if they did get him help, they should have gotten him more help or a different kind.
The parents should have known, and they should have done something. If they had, this tragedy would never have happened.
Randy and Amy Loughner, the parents of Jared Lee Loughner, who is accused of shooting Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others, are described as distraught with grief and shame. A neighbor says Randy Loughner idolized his 22-year-old son and that Amy Loughner is so devastated that she cannot speak without weeping and might need to be hospitalized.
Despite this sympathetic description of their pain, we are going to blame the parents before this is over.
Since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot up Columbine High School more than a decade ago and it was revealed that the parents failed to notice the pipe bomb construction going on in the family garage, we have visited the sins of the sons upon the fathers and the mothers.
Because it is so difficult for us to comprehend the minds of murderous children, we try to settle matters neatly by blaming the parents for failing those children.
When Seung Hui Cho killed 32 students and teachers and then himself at Virginia Tech, and we learned that his Korean immigrant parents considered their troubled son odd and therefore a failure and likely telegraphed that message to him, we knew who to blame for his frustration and his rage.
The journal of Wayne Harris reflects the fact that he believed his son Eric did not commit a series of vandalisms and was, in fact, being scapegoated.
An essay by Dylan Klebold's mother, Susan, in O magazine cast her son, the mastermind of the Columbine rampage, as a victim of suicide and offered suicide warning signs to other parents. A suicide? Really?
Now young Loughner's friends are testifying before TV cameras that he'd been getting wackier since last spring. Since it is becoming clear that Loughner only heard the voices in his dreams (and not Sarah Palin or anybody on Fox), we can be pretty sure his parents soon will be blamed for what happened next.
It is possible that the parents of these terrible children might have been so caught up in their own lives that they didn't notice the pipe bombs in the garage — the metaphor now for trouble under your own roof.
It could be that complex mental diseases such as those that surely afflicted Cho and Loughner are beyond the scope of these parents to comprehend or manage. Or that the mental health care system is too complex to navigate or too fraught with cultural taboos to be of any use to them.
And finally, it could be that parents do not see the damage in their children because they are damaged themselves.
Whatever. In the end, it makes about as much sense to blame the parents for the murderous acts of their children as it does to blame weak gun laws, political hate speech or violent video games. Yet it is the answer we choose because it is an easy way to explain very complicated things.
Could it be, as the mother of a student who was paralyzed at Columbine said, "Sometimes good people have evil children"?