The Edmonton Journal
Sunday, July 26, 1998

Society not giving teens the 'right message'

by Lorne Gunter

In a sense, it doesn't matter what Sherrice Iverson was doing playing in an arcade outside a casino in the Nevada desert at 3:45 in the morning on May 25, 1997.

It doesn't matter because by 4:10 she was dead, and no seven-year-old deserves that fate, not even -- especially not -- the daughter of a negligent father from a Los Angeles ghetto who left her in the care of her 14-year-old half-brother while he played the slots.

In another sense, it matters a great deal. What kind of father leaves a vulnerable seven-year-old alone all night while he gambles, even after security guards twice brought her to him when she had wandered out into the night? Why hasn't he been charged with contributory negligence or child abandonment?

But this isn't an indictment against Leroy Iverson. Or against slots, and their Alberta equivalent, VLTs.

It's not even an indictment against Jeremy Strohmeyer, the 18-year-old, also from Los Angeles, who will be tried in Las Vegas next month for the molestation and murder of little Sherrice.

In the kind of journalism that makes one proud to be a member of this profession -- the kind that pummels one's senses so hard it makes one want to look away, but which is so compellingly organized and written that looking away is unthinkable -- Nora Zamichow in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times examines the events surrounding Sherrice's death.

Strohmeyer, who was in the all-night arcade waiting for the adult who had brought him to Nevada to finish his poker game, briefly played a game with Sherrice, then followed her into the bathroom. There the pair continued to throw wads of wet paper towel at one another, until Sherrice swung a "wet floor" sign at Strohmeyer. The sign just grazed his arm, but, as Strohmeyer later told police, "Something, like, went haywire or something."

He sexually abused Sherrice, then snapped her neck.

Strohmeyer came from a solid upper-middle-class family, but one he increasingly felt contempt for.

He had grown disrespectful and coarse, frequently flew into uncontrollable rages, and was often drunk or high. His parents, not wanting to seem old-fashioned and hoping to compensate for all the time they spent away from him at work, said and did little.

Unbeknownst to his parents, Strohmeyer had developed a taste for kiddie porn on the Internet.

(I expect teen possession of child pornography to increase, not because teens are worse now than in earlier eras (they're not) or because the 'Net has made pornography so accessible. Rather, so few rebellious behaviours shock parents who are children of the Sixties and Seventies; not drugs or alcohol, teenage sex or homosexuality. But dirty pictures of toddlers still do.)

But the lines in Zamichow's piece that froze me with repulsion were spoken by Strohmeyer's friend, David Cash, who briefly tried to stop the molestation, then left the bathroom before the murder.

Cash knew what his friend had done. Yet not even the heinousness of the crime could jolt Cash, an honours student with no history of rebelliousness, into telling police.

"I'm not going to get upset over somebody else's life. I just worry about myself first. I'm not going to lose sleep over somebody else's problems."

Brrr. Such flippant indifference towards life.

But don't blame teenagers.

Sure, in just the last week, there have been reports that violent crimes by teenage girls -- such as the murder last year of a Calgary cabbie and of Victoria student Reena Virk -- are the only category of crime still on the rise.

Then there were reports from Calgary that abortions outnumber births among that city's teens by two-to-one.

And there was the sentencing of teens Brian Peterson and Amy Grossberg to less than three years each for pitching their newborn boy into a dumpster on a freezing November New Jersey morning in 1996. The infant died of exposure and a skull fracture, but at least Grossberg got her "nice body back", and she and Peterson were able to "uh-uuh lots", again.

The story is not the increasingly pathological disregard for life among teens, but rather that the vast majority of teens still make it into adulthood sane despite the incredible disregard for life, morality, and responsibility in the adult culture around them.

When governments cheapen life by allowing hundreds of thousands of abortions-on-a-whim, marginal or at-risk teens like Strohmeyer and Grossberg can easily get the impression that life has no value.

When adults refuse to accept the consequences of their actions, let alone impose consequences on their teens (Cash was admitted to a prestigious university despite his role in Sherrice's murder); when they glorify instant physical gratification, deride traditional moral standards, and use the public schools to preach against the sexual hang-ups of parents, how can they expect teens to "get the right message?"

It's a marvel most do, and a wonder the number of Strohmeyers isn't increasing faster than it is.

Copyright © 1998 by The Edmonton Journal. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.