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Philadelphia story

Reporters miss a shocking scandal in the City of Brotherly Love

Issue: "Schiavo’s fight for life," April 2, 2005

This one isn't for children-although there's bitter irony in the prohibition. The story elements are a hammer, a hatchet, a brick, adolescent treachery, the Supreme Court, and a scandal finale.

In 2003 a girl of 15 from a blue-collar neighborhood just north of the historic district of the City of Brotherly Love enticed a boy into the spit of woods between I-95 and the Delaware River with the promise of sex. Waiting in ambush were the 16-year-old boy's best friend and two other guys, none yet 18. It was Friday and the "young man lacking sense" (Proverbs 7:7) had just got paid, having worked a construction job with his father. He followed the girl, "as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life" (Proverbs 7:22-23).

After the massacre, the quartet engaged in a group hug, congratulated themselves, divvied up the contents of the wallet-the princely sum of $500-and copped a few days' worth of heroine, marijuana, and pills. One of the boys later confessed, "We partied beyond redemption."

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This isn't the scandal part.

In March of the present year the three boys were given life without parole, just cheating death by a fortuitous confluence of events in which a trial taking place elsewhere in the country got bumped up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which body ruled-with fear and trembling, I hope-against the execution of killers under the age of 18. The seductress (let's call her "Jane," for she comes up again in our tale) was handed a sentence of 175 to 35 years.

Jane penned a jailhouse epistle that read like so: "I'm a cold-blooded [expletive] death-worshipping bitch who survives by feeding off the weak and lonely. I lure them, and then I crush them."

But this isn't the scandal either.

You may be reminded, presently, of a tale of depravity from the pages of the book of Judges, told with chilling matter-of-factness. The elements here are a feckless Levite, his concubine, a town without pity, and body parts scattered unceremoniously to the four corners of Israel; and the purpose of the telling is to illustrate the depths of depravity where the knowledge of God is lost in the land. But don't chase down that rabbit hole; that's not where I'm going with this yarn-and it's not the scandal either.

I happened to ask my 23-year-old (she is not a believer; she is familiar with the neighborhood in question) if she'd been following the case, and Hae Linn said no but that she knew Jane's elder sister. The only other information I got out of her is that the elder sister says she's been getting letters from Jane and "they're full of Jesus."

Your call, reader. This coda to the tale (don't look for it in the Inquirer) is whispered down the lane, as it were. Reliable as water-cooler talk, maybe. But if it's true, if Jane's letters home are now "full of Jesus," then this is the scandal I've been promising you. This is the kicker, the O'Henry twist in the plot.

C.S. Lewis tells in The Great Divorce of an encounter on the threshold of heaven between a murderer now gloriously sanctified and a tourist from hell. The day visitor is indignant to find the murderer in Paradise. The heavenly citizen explains to him, "Murdering old Jack wasn't the worst thing I did. That was the work of a moment and I was half mad when I did it. But I murdered you in my heart, deliberately, for years."

Unmoved, the tourist stands on his decent earthly record and snarls, "I'm not asking for anybody's bleeding charity." "Then do. At once," replies the Shining one. "Ask for the Bleeding Charity. Everything here is for the asking and nothing can be bought."

It's the gospel scandal. "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me." Now and then we are reminded how amazing it is.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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