Two sisters, ages seven and five, were found dead in their North Payne Texas home. Their mother, 29 year-old Sarah Henderson is a suspect in the deaths of KayLee and Kenlie Henderson, who had both been shot to death in their sleep. Henderson had been visited by two Sherriff’s deputies only about three hours earlier, 11:30 PM Wednesday evening. Her husband Jake Henderson had called 911 as he was concerned his wife was suicidal. Two Henderson county deputies came to the house, and spoke with Mrs. Henderson, who indicated she was not suicidal. The deputies left, and at about 2:30 AM, Thursday morning, Mrs. Henderson allegedly shot both of her children. She then attempted to shoot her husband, but the gun malfunctioned. Mr. Henderson to k the gun from his wife, and called 911 to report the shooting, as his wife tried to choke herself and take the gun back from her husband. She was heard saying “shoot me” to her husband. She was arrested and is on suicide watch at the Henderson county jail. Mrs. Henderson had apparently planned this at least two weeks ago.
Human behavior cannot be reliably predicted, even by experienced mental health professionals. Someone who is very determined to harm themselves will find a way to do it, and it is doubtful they can be stopped. People in maximum security correctional facilities or secure forensic hospitals find ways to harm themselves, even while under suicide watch, which typically consists of 15 minute checks; People even find ways to harms themselves when placed in a restraining garment. While the laws vary from one jurisdiction to another, generally speaking, law enforcement cannot take a person into civil custody unless they have a clear reason to suspect the person is a threat to themselves or others, or is clearly incapable of caring for themselves. In civil custody the person may be handcuffed and transported to a hospital for further evaluation by mental health professionals, but they are not under criminal arrest. Once evaluated, they cannot be kept in the hospital unless they present themselves as a threat to themselves or others.
The determination of self-harm encompasses several areas: a specific plan with means to carry it out, intent to carry out the plan, and the intent to harm must be imminent, the criteria to determine if a person is a danger to others is similar. Many people talk about suicide, but will not follow through and many people make threats which are never carried out. It is the daunting job of a mental health professional, or often law enforcement officers to determine the seriousness of the threat. Depriving someone of their freedom because of a future action they may take is a very big deal, as it should be.
This is heartbreaking. The motive for such a crime is hard to fathom. More details will emerge in the weeks ahead, but what happened to these children is horrid beyond words. A father saw the bodies of his children, and his wife is incarcerated as the suspect in their murder. The deputies involved may blame themselves, and be wracked with regret, and the mainstream media will likely question their judgment with the clarity of 20/20 hindsight.