Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Anatomy of a Trailer Park Murder-Suicide

I write a lot about the window of development for the part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, which happens during adolescence. It's a ten- to twelve-year opportunity for a young person to become wired for the cognitive skills for critical thinking: i.e., comprehension, analysis, logic, intuition, problem solving, decision making, planning, organizing and managing. Or not. The potential also exists for neglecting the opportunity, resulting in minimal development in that area.

The question sometimes comes up, so what? So what if a young person doesn't work that area much during the so-called critical period of development?

The answer is that at the end of adolescence, the areas of the prefrontal cortex that weren't reinforced and wired will lose the connections that weren't used. So if very little critical thinking was exercised in youth, very little foundation for logical judgment will remain.

The consequence is an adult who may have other good qualities, but who doesn't think things through very well.

I was thinking about this as I read a report in the paper about a local murder case. Elizabeth Trevino, 37, was with her family celebrating Easter when she got a call from her estranged common-law husband, Augustine, 39. The couple was having "relationship issues," and Augustine opted not to join the family gathering. He called to ask her to meet him at their home at the Windgate Mobile Home Park. When a female relative who lived with them returned to the trailer, she found the two of them dead. Apparently, Augustine had shot Elizabeth in the head, and then committed suicide.

Why this tragic result? Why this emotionally extreme way of resolving relationship problems? Yes, they were probably breaking up and it was painful for both of them. But why take another person's life? And then terminate your own existence? Were there no other options?

To pursue the answer to that question, you have to imagine what was going on in the mind of Augustine. Confusion? Humiliation? Loneliness? Resentment? Frustration? Anger? That's easy to imagine.

But why didn't Augustine try to think through what was happening in the relationship? What about taking his partner's feelings into account? What about considering the alternatives? What about foreseeing consequences? I can only imagine that he wasn't engaged in much of this kind of reflection. Apparently he was a man who reacted emotionally, with little capacity for logical judgment.

Had I been in his situation I, too, would have been deeply troubled. But I wouldn't have considered murder and suicide to be an option. Would you?

No one will ever know for sure why Augustine handled his issues this way. But apparently, thinking things through may not have been his strong suit. Maybe that was not his way of dealing with conflict.

So yes, people have the opportunity to wire their brains for critical thinking during adolescence. After that time of life is over, a person must live with the foundation that was constructed for the rest of adult life, whether it be a robust, expansive intellect or a minimal one.

Life is a perilous journey, especially if you don't appreciate how things work, the dangers and the consequences. Elizabeth's story is a tragic one, though it's not all that uncommon. Falling in love with Augustine turned out to be the biggest mistake of her life.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


sreekumar said...

A common problem as it exists in society is depicted here. But is it solely due to lack of wiring for the cognitive skills for critical thinking alone? Is it not a change you find in generation to become more aggressive and a trend in society to think of self alone?

Denny Coates said...

Yes, you're right, other variables could have contributed, such as values and culture.

I focused on the critical thinking aspect and teen development, because so few people know about it, and it's HUGE.

Anonymous said...

More likely he was just a coward & he couldn't take the fact that the relationship was over & your right about it all I knew elizabeth from work at CTMC she was tha nices & sweetest person I known since I started working there I miss her very much & it's still hurts me 2 know that she's not around when I was told about this it was to late they just had tha funeral & I was in shocked 2 find out at the last moment I will never forget her she will be in my heart forever may elizabeth marie trevino reat in peace from jesse marchan

Anonymous said...

Im sorry what I ment to say rest in peace I miss wrote it wrong cause I got a little teary