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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

2 Girls' Deaths, 2 Vastly Different Aftermaths

March 03, 2000|MIKE DOWNEY

If ever a week existed that made you want to spit out the bad taste in your mouth, this was it.

Two nights of network television were devoted to the grisly 1996 murder of a 6-year-old girl, JonBenet Ramsey, along with daily news coverage of Tuesday's slaying of a 6-year-old girl, Kayla Rolland.

The first crime is unsolved. Nobody knows to this day who killed the Ramsey child--nobody except the person or persons responsible.

The second case is no mystery. A 6-year-old girl got shot by a 6-year-old boy. He brought a .32-caliber gun from his home--authorities later described it as "a flophouse"--to school, where he gunned down a first-grade classmate.

JonBenet's murder left two questions that remain unanswered, and perhaps always will: Who would do such a thing? Why would anyone do such a thing?

Kayla's death left virtually no question unanswered. She was killed by a boy whose parents didn't live with him. One was in jail. Drugs and a shotgun were reportedly found in his house. It doesn't excuse what the kid did, but it helps to explain it.

Perhaps that is the only salvation here. Perhaps since we understand how this child's death could happen, Kayla Rolland will be permitted to rest in peace.

*

The Ramsey case, unlike that sweet little girl herself, refuses to die. You go through a supermarket line and there "she" is--or a ghoulish likeness of her--on the front page of a tabloid, forever 6, lying dead in a coffin. "Exclusive" pictures, more than three years after the fact.

Lawrence Schiller's book, "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town," combined with the CBS-TV film he made from it, is a meticulously detailed account of a famously unexplained crime. There is good cause for these lurid accounts. A child's violent death mustn't be forgotten. No statute of limitation on murder exists. You can write the books and you can make the movies, but her story has no ending.

With any luck at all, Kayla Rolland at least may be spared this.

A "fate worse than death," some might describe it, for those who never before comprehended how any fate could be worse.

JonBenet Ramsey has had such a fate. Perhaps it can be avoided for the little girl whose life ended Tuesday in a Michigan schoolhouse.

Her moppet's body won't need to be exposed post-mortem for years to come--in yearbook photographs and old home movies and Cabbage Patch images ad nauseam, or in in-depth interviews with neighbors and teachers and total strangers who get interviewed just because they live in houses on the same block.

This story will run its course. The child will be buried and eulogized. The boy who killed her will probably not be identified, not be charged, not be hounded wherever he ends up. There will be no dramatic testimony. There will be no amateur detective theories on why the guilty party did what he did, as opposed to those positively sure of what Patsy or John Ramsey did or didn't do.

For a few days to come, authorities in Michigan will attempt to spread the blame where it belongs. There is already a 19-year-old charged with involuntary manslaughter, since it is possible that the weapon that killed Kayla Rolland was taken from the bed where this young man slept. There is an uncle with the memorable name of Sir Marcus B. Winfrey who has also been arrested, as police continue to investigate.

It is a bloodcurdling story. For everyone who was baffled at the motive behind JonBenet Ramsey's murder--a failed kidnap plot or an attempted sexual molestation or a parent's fit of anger?--Kayla Rolland's death appears to be the direct result of a child's rage. According to the boy's incarcerated father, his 6-year-old had been suspended from school three times, including once for stabbing a student with a pencil.

*

A public spectacle will endure for a while, then gradually fade. It isn't likely to linger on, as another notorious Michigan murder case--the "Jenny Jones Show" guest who killed a gay man who publicly expressed a romantic interest in him--did, due to lawsuits and appealed verdicts.

Kayla Rolland is in no way less important than JonBenet Ramsey, or any other child who has met with such a savage fate. She is entitled to be remembered.

If we are lucky, though--or more importantly, if her family is--her soul will not be exploited by buzzards hovering above, as JonBenet's has.

A child shoots a child and that's all we can cling to, a prayer that the worst is not yet to come.

*

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. E-mail: mike.downey@latimes.com.

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