Publication date:
Wednesday, May 17, 2000

BY RON WILKINS

Staff Reporter

Beth McCoy

Many read of 13-year-old Jessica Lyons' death, then quietly, sadly shook their heads, set the newspaper on the kitchen table and hurried out the door for work or errands.

But for Beth McCoy and Nancy Precup, the news of the third teen-ager in six years accused of murder ripped open old wounds that never quite heal.

"When this happened, I felt as confused and disappointed as everyone else, even though I went through it," said McCoy, whose daughter, 7-year-old Erin McKenzie, was killed Aug. 24, 1994, by a then 14-year-old Kevin Carter.

"That was within hours of the anniversary of my mom's (murder)," Precup said, mentioning that her mother, 69-year-old Doris Swindell, was killed in the evening of May 2, 1996, and Jessica was fatally attacked in the early morning hours of May 3.

Like McKenzie, Swindell was killed by a 14-year-old. Dustin Trowbridge.

"Your heart just breaks for this family, because you've lived it," Precup said.

More than most others in the community, Precup and McCoy can empathize with the Lyons family's past couple of weeks, as well as the coming months and years.

"In a way, it's just beginning," McCoy said, describing the painful chain of events for the Lyons family.

There will be court pretrial hearings, a trial, sentencing hearing if Josh Davies is convicted and the inevitable appeal. It takes a lot of composure to push past news cameras and face the accused in the courtroom.

"It's very difficult," Precup said. "A lot of your energy is spent in composure."

"That was hard. The court process," McCoy said. "You worry whether justice is going to prevail."

In the meantime, life -- or the semblance of it -- continues.

"You feel bad for a moment and then go on with your day," McCoy said, describing how most of the community reacted to her daughter's murder.

But it's different for someone living through the murder of a loved one.

"The world just stops, but everything keeps going on around you," McCoy said. "There have been days I just didn't want to come to work, because I knew there's no way I could concentrate.

"I keep telling myself time will heal it. Well, time hasn't healed it.

"I still have dreams. Sometimes I feel like she's really there."

Precup recalled how the community's compassion and outreach helped.

"It's something to hold onto," Precup said, adding that life is never the same after the murder of a loved one.

"It's completely different. You're in a major transition for several years."

Sometimes the slightest things cause unexplained anxiety.

"The old saying, 'Don't sweat the small stuff' becomes really important," Precup said.

Both McCoy and Precup mentioned their faith helped in the lowest of the lows.

Like the rest of the community and the nation, Precup and McCoy wrestle with teen-age murders or accused murderers. The questions often center around "what ifs?" or "what can be done to spot this?"

"The stories are so parallel," Precup said, drawing comparisons to Trowbridge and Davies. "Yeah, he did some odd things. Yeah, he's in the juvenile system, and we're working with him. But there's never been violence. Then one day, he's violent.

"It seems like the neighbors were concerned about Joshua. But then, neighbors were concerned about Dustin."

Still, these victims' families aren't sure what the connection is or what causes a teen-ager to kill.

"There's a lot of kids that go through the juvenile system and get channeled in the right direction. Some don't," Precup said.

"I don't know that there's one key element that binds these together -- individual sets of circumstances that led up to this," McCoy said.

"Kevin came from a single-parent household. Joshua comes from a two-parent house," McCoy said, contrasting Davies with her daughter's killer. "Kevin wasn't using drugs. Joshua wasn't using drugs. Dustin was using some kind of inhalant.

"I think ... they thought they could get away with it, or maybe they didn't. Maybe they just acted impulsively."

"Selfish monsters," McCoy said describing Carter, Trowbridge and Davies, if he's found guilty.

Experts are quick to speculate that elements of pop culture contribute to these children's grisly deeds.

"I think it's so complex. No one thing is going to affect a kid," Precup said. "Video games don't cause it."

But take a lonely, disassociated teen who lacks nurture and parental involvement and intervention, combined with video violence in games, on television in movies and it might add up.

McCoy thinks these influences contributed to Carter's actions. He was, for example, unsupervised.

"There's not one easy answer to fit with all situations. It's complex," McCoy said. "With Kevin, he lived with his mother, and she was gone a lot."

Beth remembered in her grief asking a detective, "Why?" He pointed to the television.

She agrees the messages conveyed in pop culture can be confusing to those allowed to watch and listen to anything they choose.

"A kid's mind is still growing, and they learn from that, and that's what they base their actions and role models on. And if there's not parental guidance what are they going to base their action on?"

Then again, who really knows?

"You just don't know. They could just be evil," she said. "If you can believe in God and good, then evil is there."

Support of her theory of evil is only a newscast or a newspaper away on any given day someplace in America.

"It's not getting better. It's getting worse all over the nation and here in Anderson," McCoy said.

The solution, according to McCoy and Precup, is fairly clear.

"Maybe the first thing and the best thing to concentrate on is good parenting skills and early intervention. That's a start anyway," McCoy said.

If parents won't be responsible, it falls on the community and neighborhood crime watches. Neighbors shouldn't hesitate to call police if they see something. Call a parent late at night and wake them to tell them their kid's out wandering, she said.

"It's too easy to ignore things, shut your curtains and go back to bed. But it could be you next," McCoy said.

"We need to get back to a more caring society where we care about other people and respect," she said.

"We're all responsible for our community," Precup said. "It's all of ours' responsibility to somehow get back to the premise of human kindness.

"There is so much good going on. Churches trying to point children in the right direction. Anybody who wants to be a part of that, there's so much available."

The problem of teen violence seems insurmountable, but McCoy and Precup believe it can be conquered.

"It seems difficult to make a dent in violence, because it seems so big," Precup admits.

"I sure don't have all the answers. I've been thinking about it for six years. It's not easy," McCoy said. "I do think it starts at an early age. You can't wait until you're 14 or 16 and turn it around. It's deep rooted."

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