Suffer the children: When broken romance turns deadly – The Journal News / Lohud.com

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New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll talks about the arrest of Neil White in the alleged suffocation death of his 7-year old daughter Gabrielle White, during a press conference in New Rochelle, June 7, 2017.

Authorities said Manuela Maria Morgado wanted to use helium to suffocate her 4-year-old son inside their Mamaroneck home. 

When the boy began to struggle she instead taped his hands and feet and smothered him with a pillow. Prosecutors said Morgado, who was later convicted of the 2012 slaying, was distraught over her breakup with her son’s father.

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The horrific case is like dozens of others that have plagued the Lower Hudson Valley in recent years, cases where children have become the innocent targets of violence in shattered marriages or broken romances.  

Police said similar circumstances surrounded the case of a New Rochelle father charged with suffocating his 7-year-old daughter in their home on Tuesday before trying to kill himself. 

“It’s the ultimate revenge in many ways,” said Mark Sirkin, a clinical psychologist and director of the mental health counseling program at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.

“What better way to get at a spouse that has harmed you than to take away the thing they care about most?” Sirkin said. “Clearly they don’t care abut you anymore, because they want a divorce. But with the kids, you pay the price you will be paying the rest of your life.”

In the New Rochelle case, police said Neil White, 47, suffocated his daughter, Gabriele, then slashed his wrists in a failed attempt to take his own life. He was charged with second-degree murder on Wednesday.

Police said White’s wife, Michelle Hord-White, filed for divorce in April.

Sirkin cautioned that it is difficult to draw conclusions without knowing all of the factors that contributed to the New Rochelle incident. For example, it is not known if White could have suffered from a mental illness or if he was facing another crisis in his life.

Similar local tragedies have unfolded in past years. Among them: 

• In 2015, Glen Hochman, a retired White Plains police officer, shot and killed his two teenage daughters in their sleep inside the family’s home in Harrison before turning the gun on himself. Police said Hochman and his estranged wife were separating. 

• Stacey Pagli was sentenced to 20 years in prison after she admitted strangling Marissa Pagli, her 18-year-old daughter to death inside their Manhattanville College apartment. At her sentencing, Pagli’s estranged husband called the crime “senseless.”

• Sam Friedlander, a Cross River attorney, shot his estranged wife and his two young children to death inside their home before turning the shotgun on himself in 2010. The slayings came two days before Friedlander and his wife Amy, who were in the midst of a bitter divorce, were due in court for a child-support hearing. 

• In one of the Lower Hudson Valley’s most horrific cases, Maria Amaya, a Port Chester mother, cut the throats of her four children in 1990 then attempted to kill herself but survived. Authorities said Amaya, who was committed to a state psychiatric hospital, was in a troubled marriage.

“In any family, children are associated with their parents and in any divorce situation it’s likely that children are used as pawns,” said Linda Fentiman, an author and professor of criminal law and health law at Pace University Law School in White Plains.

Fentiman noted that it is more common for men, and not women, to target their own children to hurt their female partner. 

“There are certain kinds of domestic violence, sometimes called intimate terrorism, in which the partner deliberately targets the children as a way of getting at the mother,” she said. “So, a lot of domestic violence is both physical and psychological.”

Fentiman said that 30 to 60 percent of instances of child abuse also involve domestic violence, and vice versa. 

Statistics show, however, that either parent is capable of killing their own child in the midst of domestic turmoil. In a 2010 report, the American Anthropological Association said that more than 200 mothers in the U.S. kill their children every year.

Twitter: @jfitzgibbon

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