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Jedi Babies

Two adorable toddlers dressed as Darth Vader and Princess Leia engage in a fierce lightsaber battle over a cupcake. Click through to find out who wins. <span class=meta>Oscar Rene/YouTube</span>

Using the force was never this adorable (Oscar Rene/YouTube)

With Episode VII set to open roughly a year from now, Star Wars buzz is starting to build and even toddlers and babies are getting into the spirit.

Take this VIDEO from filmmaker Oscar Rene Lozoya II entitled Star Wars Jedi Babies – Crib Wars Episode I: The Baby Menace. It features his kids as characters from a galaxy far, far away—and it could not be cuter.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Flashback: Living through ALS

I wrote this article a number of years ago as my father was wasting away from ALS. Given all the attention on this disease recently—as well as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenges appearing on Facebook and other social networking sites—I thought it might be nice to re-post this. Unfortunately, my father lost his battle and passed away in 2008—roughly a year after my son was born. It is too late to help my dad, but I hope we can find a way to save the lives of other ALS patients before they suffer the same fate. I love and miss you, Dad. This is for you.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—is a degenerative motor neuron disorder that generally affects the muscles, but later spreads into almost every system in the body. Those unfortunate enough to develop the disease experience “rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy and fasciculations, muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing and decline in breathing ability” (Wikipedia). And the mortality rate for ALS is 100%. There is no cure and the outlook is always grim.

I know this because my father passed away in 2008 from ALS.

My father in the early days

Although I’ve come to accept the fact that he is gone, I often find myself wondering how someone like my father could develop such a horrible disease in the first place. And even though it isn’t genetic—he was the first in our family to suffer from ALS—I worry that eventually, I could be next. Of course, my father and I were almost polar opposites in many respects, so I am optimistic and feel confident something else will likely get me.

This fact doesn’t make me feel much better, though. After all, we’ll all die from something eventually and none of us can escape it.

What bothers me most about my father dying from ALS is the way he lived his life and the eventual irony of it all. You see, my father was an orthopedic surgeon who exercised all the time. In fact, some of the equipment at our local YMCA had been donated by my father and uncle, both of them surgeons and partners who endorsed exercise and physical activity at every turn. When my brother and I were young, my father forced us to accompany him to work out, hoping we would follow his example and start exercising more on our own someday. Granted, we both stayed active through sports and other pursuits, but pumping iron wasn’t really our focus. And he was hoping to change that.

For years, the three of us would visit the YMCA, work out to the point of exhaustion and then repeat the process several times each week. Dad even hired personal trainers to set us up with exercise routines tailored to our specific needs. Combined with his exercise tips, we learned everything we needed to know and worked hard to get in shape, at least in the beginning.

Unfortunately, my brother and I responded to being forced to exercise in very different ways. He continued long after we were free to choose for ourselves and still exercises regularly today. I went the opposite way, choosing to exercise indirectly through work or other activities like sports. Oddly enough, the same thing happened with church. Being forced to go anywhere didn’t really agree with me, but my brother could find all sorts of value in it and, as a result, is a more religious person than me. And in this respect, I was more like my father.

Diet and nutrition were also important factors in my father’s life. To this day, I have never seen anyone consume as much fruit as him, sometimes two or three different fruits in one sitting. As for drinking, he would occasionally have some Vermouth with dinner, or the rare glass of wine or cold beer, but generally abstained. Smoking was never his vice, either. Instead, he would lecture me for hours about its dangers once he discovered that I had taken up smoking cigarettes. And no matter what ailed me, he always claimed it was the result of my smoking.

My dad was also a man of adventure and always took us on trips full of excitement and thrill-seeking, as evidenced in my earlier post “Ketchum If You Can”. Over the years, we traveled all over the world to go white-water rafting, skiing, hiking and sightseeing. We ended up at one time or another in Colorado,Costa Rica, Hawaii, Argentina and dozens of other wonderful locales. And even when he was unable to accompany us, my father would still finance our trips to places like Brazil and the US Virgin Islands.

It was during a family trip to Costa Rica that I first noticed some of his physical limitations.

During most of our previous hikes, my father was front-and-center, leading us through the woods or jungles with a Devil-may-care attitude and almost unlimited energy. This trip into the rain forest was much different. Instead of maintaining his footing and trudging along, my dad would often slip or have to keep himself from falling down an embankment that normally would not have fazed him. My siblings and I expressed concern, but he always blamed it on being a little older or unfamiliar with the terrain. We had our doubts, though.

Dad before the symptoms began

Later, I noticed that my father had started limping. When I asked what the problem was, he would simply qualify it as some minor nerve damage that would eventually correct itself. Only it never did. In fact, it started to get worse, but he insisted it was nothing. And since he was always the tough, macho man from South America, we never questioned it.

Then came the phone call that changed everything.

I was dining out in Raleigh with my fiancé and her family, walking back to the car after a delicious meal at the Macaroni Grill. The call from home seemed a little strange since I had spoken with my mother earlier, but I really started to worry when I heard my father’s voice instead. He was never much for phone calling and our conversations were always short and sweet.

This conversation was much different.

He told me he had been diagnosed with ALS almost a year before, but didn’t want us to worry so he kept it a secret during that time. Knowing next to nothing about the disease at the time, I asked about his prognosis and he told me he wasn’t sure, but things wouldn’t end well once the disease progressed. Of course, I was crushed and immediately thought the worst. He comforted me and assured me that he would be around for a long time. We both knew that wouldn’t be the case, but remaining optimistic seemed like the best approach at the time.

Over the next year, I watched helplessly as a man who was always strong, muscular and mentally sharp deteriorated into a mere shadow of the father I once knew. One by one, his muscular systems started to shut down and, towards the end, he even needed help using the bathroom. We bought him an electric wheelchair to allow him greater mobility, but he hated using it because he was so proud. About the only time he would ride it was when I brought my newborn son to visit. They only spent a year together, but my son still remembers cruising around the house with him.

The last time I saw my father, we talked about the life he helped me create for myself and the new family I had just formed, which brought him a great deal of pleasure. He just wanted to know that his own life had made a difference to someone else, which it certainly had. In fact, he had impacted nearly every person he came into contact with, including his family, friends and the hundreds of patients he served during his successful career in medicine. Everyone who knew him loved him. And I made sure he knew just how much I loved him, too.

The next morning, my mother called to tell me he had passed away in the middle of the night and that I should come over immediately to see him one last time. My sister had spent the night on the couch near his favorite chair in our living room. She woke up in the middle of the night and gave him a kiss before heading to bed. Little did she know, but that would be the last kiss he would ever receive.

I found my father lying in the same chair, only now he was perfectly still and cold. Grief took hold of us all as we wept beside his body, holding his hand or gently stroking his head. Then his body was removed and cremated, leaving me with only a small urn containing remains that were split between my mother, my siblings and me. Today, it sits on my mantle with his picture, a constant reminder of the man who spent his life for his family, and who made me the man I am today.

ALS is a terrible disease that affects roughly 30,000 people at any given time. And as I mentioned before, there is no known cure for it either, but there is hope. The ALS Association is working hard to find ways to treat and eventually cure this degenerative disease, and they are making progress. I encourage everyone to support their efforts because, believe me, you don’t want this to happen to you or someone you know and love.

And if you are living with ALS, please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.

A Day for Dads

Nothing says “Happy Father’s Day” like an awkward family photo. Check out some of these keepers from days gone by…

Word to Your Mother

We all know that kids say the “darndest” things, but when Mother’s Day rolls around, they also write some of the craziest stuff, too. Their questionable spelling skills cannot eclipse their love for mommy, though, as these Mother’s Day messages clearly show. And in terms of comic relief, it doesn’t get much better than this. Enjoy!

Reality Round-Up: Loose Ends

Time to tie up some loose ends (Excess Baggage)

Time to tie up some loose ends (Excess Baggage)

Last week and over the weekend, I ran across a number of news stories worthy of mention on Gnostic Bent. Granted, I could probably drag each of these out as individual posts, but in the name of efficiency, I instead present them in whip-a-round form. Some of them are funny while others are disturbing, but one thing is certain: they are all interesting in their own way. I hope you enjoy them despite their subject matter… or perhaps even learn something along the way. I know that I did.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: The Lunchbox Laboratory in Seattle came under fire recently for an advertisement depicting Jesus Christ with a blunt in his hand. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, a blunt is basically a marijuana joint rolled in cigar paper—the so-called “weapon of choice” for Snoop Lion and countless others. The ad was designed to promote a two-for-one Easter special on the restaurant’s signature dish, the Burger of the Gods. Since Easter fell on April 20th this year—or 420, as it is known and celebrated by potheads all over the world—the restaurant added the blunt and has gotten all sorts of publicity as a result. Of course, Easter falls on April 5th next year, so the odds of Jesus reappearing with a blunt are relatively slim… unless these dates converge again!

Jesus as a pot smoker? (Lunchbox Laboratory)

Jesus as a pot smoker? (Lunchbox Laboratory)

HOMOSASSA, FLORIDA: Last Thursday, deputies in Citrus County, Florida arrested 24-year-old Cody Eugene Wygant after receiving a report that his 16-month-old son Daymeon had stopped breathing. Wygant was charged with third-degree murder and child neglect since his son was pronounced dead at Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center a short time later. And during his confession, Wygant explained exactly why he killed his young son: so he could concentrate on playing video games! Apparently, Daymeon was crying uncontrollably while Wygant was playing his Xbox, so he covered the boy’s nose and mouth for 3-4 minutes, put him in his playpen and covered him with blankets and other bedding to ensure he would never breathe fresh air again. When deputies found the child, he was blue and unresponsive—Wygant spent five hours playing games and watching reruns of the Fox television show “Fringe” before finally contacting the authorities. If nothing else, this reminds me of something I heard a long time ago: anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad. Obviously, Wygant belongs in this first group—not to mention jail!

OAK CREEK, WISCONSIN: Another guy who reached his breaking point and responded violently was 77-year-old Jack Lang of Oak Creek. The same day that Cody Eugene Wygant murdered his infant son, Lang used a .22-caliber pistol to kill his blind wife of 56 years, June Lang. As I understand it, she had been nagging him incessantly for weeks and “wouldn’t shut up,” so he approached her in the bedroom and told her he had a gun. Unfortunately, this had no effect and she continued to complain, so he shot her in the face and killed her. Police found her lifeless body near the bed and arrested Lang, who has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide and could face life in prison if convicted. Of course, he is 77 years old, so life may only be a few more years. At any rate, I hope this convinces spouses to stop nagging each other so much. Even decades of marriage may not be enough to save them otherwise.

Nag Jack Lang and you could pay the ultimate price (Fox News-11)

Nag Jack Lang and you could pay the ultimate price (Fox News-11)

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: Back to Seattle we go for 20-year-old Gabriel Galan Navarro, a young man charged with first-degree murder on Wednesday for killing his 20-year-old “live-in” girlfriend, Allison Leedy. According to the latest reports, Leedy was planning to end their three-year relationship and to attend college in California—and Navarro was “determined to prevent Allison and her family from realizing her dreams.” So Wednesday morning, he strangled Leedy to death and then sent a text to her family that read “She’s dead. I have the last laugh.” Navarro then phoned the police to confess—even lying and saying he had a booby trap of exploding gas in his apartment (which he didn’t)—and surrendered after officers broke windows to release the alleged gas. Now he sits in jail under $2 million bail, alive and well while the Leedy family mourns their tragic loss. I don’t know if Washington has the death penalty or not, but “an eye for an eye” seems perfectly suited to this case, at least in my opinion.

Sievers turns poop into cash! (CBS-2 Iowa)

Sievers turns poop into cash! (CBS-2 Iowa)

STOCKTON, IOWA: In order to end on a more positive note, we now travel to Scott County, Iowa and the farm of Bryan Sievers, a sixth-generation farmer who deals primarily with cattle. Beginning in September 2013—and after investing $7 million in the necessary technology—Sievers started converting cow manure into clean power for Alliant Energy. Basically, the poop from each cow falls through a slot in the floor, gets transferred to something called a digester, and then emits methane gas as it travels through a series of tanks and pipes. Each cow eats roughly 40 pounds of feed daily and, collectively, the cows produce enough methane to power 1,000 homes. Sievers uses the energy to power his farm and sells the rest back to the grid—a service that nets him roughly $24,000 a month from the energy company. Not bad for someone who shovels cow shit all day, huh?

This concludes today’s edition of the Reality Round-Up, but I’m sure it won’t be long until the next edition drops. After all, the news never stops, so why should I?

Thanks for reading and, as always, be good to each other…

The Real Cookie Monster

Must have COOKIES! (Sodahead)

A few years ago, I was visiting with family at my mother’s home, enjoying some quality time while our kids played and ran all over the place. Everything was going fine until we received a strange phone call… from the police!

As it turned out, my son had misplaced one of his toys and decided the best course of action would be to call 911. He remembered us mentioning how this emergency number was used to report important things, like accidents, crimes and missing persons. Well, in his mind, his missing stuffed animal was a missing person, so he made the call. Fortunately, the 911 operator was very understanding and this provided me with an important teachable moment. And we haven’t had this problem since.

Of course, the phenomenon of kids calling 911 for the wrong reason is pretty common. Something similar just happened in Honeyville, Utah, even though the impetus for the call was much different from my son’s.

Police in Honeyville recently responded to an emergency call from a 7-year-old boy who claimed his mother had thrown a knife at him. When they arrived on the scene, however, they realized this wasn’t really the case. In reality, the young boy called 911 and lied about the knife attack because his mother refused to give him something he desperately wanted: more Oreo cookies!

Don’t deny me my Oreos! (Food Fashion & Flow)

Fortunately, the boy was too young to be arrested and was instead subjected to a teachable moment of his own, this time by the cops. They sat him down for a long talk and explained what 911 should really be used for—making sure he understood that people who use it incorrectly could face serious consequences and even criminal charges.

Whether or not this young man “got the point” remains to be seen, but I can say this: I’m glad he didn’t steal a gun and try to knock over a convenience store for cookies. Far too many kids out there seem willing to resort to violence when their “needs” aren’t met… even the youngest ones. I give this kid serious kudos for picking up a phone instead of a pistol.

Time to Quit

The time to quit smoking has come again (Zakta)

I remember my first time smoking a cigarette like it was yesterday.

It happened when I was in high school, somewhere around 15 years of age. My friends and I were up to our usual antics—wandering through suburbia on our way to “roll a house” with toilet paper we bought at Safeway. I can’t remember who our target was since it happened so long ago—I’m now 42, so you do the math—but I will never forget the question my friend John asked when he saw me eyeballing his pack of Merit cigarettes.

“You want one?”

He held out the pack with one butt conveniently poking out from the others and, like a moron, I took it and accepted a light, as well. And the rest, as they say, is history.

A smart man would have refused and gone on his merry way. As I said, though, I was only 15, so my brain obviously wasn’t developed enough with regard to decision-making… or should I say good decision-making. And I have been smoking ever since—sometimes a pack a day and sometimes more—for nearly three decades.

I did quit for six months at two different times, but always returned to my tar-ridden friends, usually out of boredom. Of course, I may have been destined for smoking from a young age, but please know I only blame myself for the poor choices I’ve made.

When I was a young boy, my mother was a smoker. She wasn’t a heavy tobacco user, by any means, but I have clear memories of her lighting up in our old station wagon, especially after leaving the pool in the summertime. My brother and sister would immediately complain about the smell, but I always enjoyed it. And I’m sure this experience planted the seed for what would later become my most destructive habit.

What used to make me look cool now just makes me look stupid (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

What used to make me look cool now just makes me look stupid (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Fortunately, my mother managed to quit smoking “cold turkey” and quickly joined the ranks of non-smokers who preach and nag others to follow suit. She would always say, “You won’t quit until you want to quit.” And for a long time, I agreed. Then I realized something my mother obviously overlooked. What if you don’t necessarily want to quit, but know that you need to?

This is the question I now face as I consider a third attempt at quitting. The first time I tried to kick the habit, I employed all the tools available to me at the time, from nicotine patches and gum to self-help tapes and books. Nothing worked and the first time I smelled a cigarette again, I got right back into it. My second attempt was slightly more successful and lasted a bit longer—this time using Chantix, the new smoking cessation kid on the block at that time—but since it gave me migraine headaches and may have eventually killed me (much faster than cigarettes, I might add), I failed again and returned to the nicotine treats.

And I have been smoking ever since, this time accepting the fact I may never successfully quit and giving myself over to the hacking, phlegm-producing loveliness that all chronic smokers experience. Represent, addicted brothers and sisters!

Seriously, though, the time for a third attempt at non-smoking is steadily approaching, largely due to two factors: my son and recent advances in smoking cessation technology.

As the father of a 6-year-old boy—one who has repeatedly asked me to quit smoking because “it’s bad for me” and “I could die from it”—I can longer think of consequences like emphysema and lung cancer as being relevant to me alone. Every drag I take from a cigarette moves me one step closer to death—and one step further from life with my son. And believe me, I want to be around for as much of his life as possible, preferring to grow old rather than adhering to my usual justification for smoking: “We all have to die of something.”

This is true, of course, but it doesn’t mean I should speed up the process, either. Choosing to smoke is like playing Russian roulette over and over again. You never know when you’ve smoked the cigarette that will ultimately kill you, so why take chances? After all, smoking is nothing more than gradual suicide. And to paraphrase Brad Pitt’s character from one of my favorite films—Ocean’s Eleven—I’m only suicidal in the morning. Most other times I consider myself to be reasonably well-adjusted, which I’m sure some who know me well would dispute.

Here’s hoping they keep their mouths shut, though. And you know who you are.

Blu eCigs are the latest weapon in the battle to quit smoking (Blu eCigs/Lorillard Technologies Inc)

Blu eCigs are the latest weapon in the battle to quit smoking (Blu eCigs/Lorillard Technologies Inc)

As if staying alive for my son wasn’t enough, I’m also considering another attempt at quitting because of the advances made in the field of smoking cessation recently—most notably the surge of electronic cigarettes on the market. Nicotine gum and patches are no longer the cutting edge, which is fine by me since I often found myself smoking while using these ineffective tools. Electronic cigarettes, on the other hand, not only target withdrawal symptoms by offering several different levels of nicotine inserts; they also help with the ritual of smoking—the experience of having something in your hand and mouth that seems like a cigarette, but does far less damage. And at this point in my smoking career, the ritual is about the only reason I smoke anymore.

By now, I’m sure my body has developed some kind of immunity to nicotine, since the same thing seems to have happened with caffeine. I can drink coffee all day long and still get to sleep. It doesn’t even energize me all that much anymore. Sad, I know, but this is the unfortunate consequence of long-term addiction to any substance… not that this is anything new, of course.

So here’s my plan: weed out traditional cigarettes, bring in electronic smokes and eventually kick them both completely. It won’t be easy and the chances of me becoming even more of an ass will increase exponentially with each passing day, but I have to try. My son is worth it and if quitting means spending more time with him, then I don’t really have a choice. This will happen soon, but first I have one more important task to complete: convincing my family members to spring for a Blu starter pack, preferably in time for my birthday in a few months.

No one said quitting would be cheap!

Death by Soda

Soda can do more than rot your teeth and make you fat; it can kill you (Roderick Pena/Stewart's)

Soda can do more than rot your teeth and make you fat; it can kill you (Roderick Pena/Stewart’s)

I’m sure we have all heard the “urban legend” about a young boy caught smoking by his parents, who then lock him in a room with a carton of cigarettes and tell him not to come out until he has smoked them all. Their objective is obviously to punish the boy for being bad while also ensuring he gets so sick of smoking that he never picks up a cigarette again. Granted, this seems like a very extreme measure—especially where young children are concerned—but some would likely classify it as “tough love” and support such a decision.

I am not one of those people.

The reason I classify this example as an urban legend is because I’ve heard about it numerous times, but never knew anyone who actually experienced such punishment—at least not until I read about a Tennessee couple who did this very thing recently. Instead of using cigarettes to punish their 5-year-old daughter, though, they used something most of us would never consider dangerous: grape soda.

Randall Lee Vaughn, 41, and his wife Mary Lavonne Vaughn, 58, of Surgoinsville, Tennessee are currently being held on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child neglect and aggravated child abuse. If convicted, they could face up to 60 years in prison or even the death penalty, depending on how things play out. Of course, I hope the latter occurs and after you hear what they did, I’m sure you will feel the same.

Alexa Linboom died from drinking too much grape soda (The Guardian UK)

Alexa Linboom died from drinking too much grape soda (The Guardian UK)

Apparently, the Vaughn’s daughter Alexa Linboom—a precious little 5-year-old girl—stole several cans of grape soda that belonged to her stepmother, so they decided to teach her a lesson. In the span of only a few hours, they forced Alexa to drink more than two liters of grape soda and water. What they didn’t consider, however, is how damaging it can be to consume so much liquid in such a short time. It basically dropped Alexa’s sodium levels so low that her brain began to swell. She started to turn blue and when she became unresponsive, the couple put her in the car and drove her to the emergency room. Alexa was soon airlifted to Niswonger Children’s Hospital, but the brain damage she suffered was too great. She was removed from life support and died a few days later.

The official cause of Alexa’s death was homicide due to “acute fluid/water intoxication,” but it’s obvious that something more disturbing was to blame—something both of her parents seem to possess in spades: stupidity. After all, punishing Alexa with “time out” or even a small spanking would likely have taught her the lesson… and she would still be alive, too. Thanks to stupidity, though, the outcome was much different… and much more tragic.

And all because an innocent little girl took some grape soda… how ridiculous is that?

Sex-Starved Teacher Sentenced

Kathryn Murray banged her 15-year-old student (KVUE-ABC)

Kathryn Murray banged her 15-year-old student (KVUE-ABC)

When he was just 14 years old, Jimmy Pallais was adopted from Costa Rica and came to America to live with his new parents—Alex and Jenny Pallais—in Houston, Texas. Despite speaking very little English and being a literal “stranger in a strange land,” Jimmy was excited about his new life and went to his first day at Memorial Middle School anxious to see what his future would hold.

Little did he know that by the time he was 15, he would be getting extra special attention from the person assigned to tutor him in Language Arts: former English support teacher Kathryn Camille Murray. And when I say extra special attention, I of course mean the sexual kind.

In the beginning, Jimmy found comfort in Murray’s classroom—getting help with his homework and learning to communicate more effectively—and like many boys at his school, developed a little crush on his attractive young teacher. And who could blame him? Teachers certainly didn’t look as good when I was going in middle school… damn it.

Eventually, Jimmy summoned the courage to write his tutor a love letter, but lost his nerve before giving it to her. He tore it up and dropped it in the trash on his way out of class. Murray apparently saw this and when Jimmy returned to her class the next time, she told him so.

“I read your letter,” she said. “I really like you, like, for real… but we can’t have anything.”

The "victim" Jimmy Pallais speaks out (ABC News)

The “victim” Jimmy Pallais speaks out (ABC News)

This last statement obviously turned out to be false, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When Jimmy’s parents discovered that their son had a crush on his married teacher—he often referred to her as pretty and would spend hours after school getting one-to-one “tutoring” with her, alone—they emailed Murray and also contacted the school principal, who assured them Jimmy would be moved to another class. This obviously didn’t help because Jimmy continued to communicate with his teacher through Facebook. And the following Monday morning, the young student decided to take his shot, so to speak.

Arriving at school early, Jimmy marched straight into Murray’s classroom and kissed her. Then he walked out and went to his first class. When he returned to Murray’s class later, she told Jimmy that she wanted him to kiss her again. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Jimmy and his young, apparently sex-starved—and possibly mentally ill—teacher had sex in her classroom, at a local hotel and even in his own bed at his parents’ house. Once they even hooked up after Jimmy’s father dropped him off for a school dance. Murray parked her car at the church next to the school and waited for Jimmy, who snuck over to meet her once his father was out of sight. And their secret affair likely would have continued if not for a series of unfortunate events… unfortunate for them, I mean.

Suspicion first arose after Jimmy confided in another teacher and told her that he had kissed Murray. Jimmy also claimed to have taken some “selfies” of them kissing using the cell phone his mother loaned to him. He eventually returned the phone to her, and that’s when the next disturbing clue surfaced. Jenny Pallais received a text message from Murray that was clearly intended for her son: “You know I love you… I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to be happy together… I’m worried about how obvious we are at school… I miss you.”

Why weren't teachers this pretty when I was in school? (Huffington Post)

Why weren’t teachers this pretty when I was in school? (Huffington Post)

As if this wasn’t a dead giveaway, 12-year-old Fernando Pallais—Jimmy’s younger brother—told his mother he had walked in on Jimmy and Murray having sex in her own home. They were in bed together and even though he never saw sexual activity, per se, the young man did notice several condoms and Murray’s bra lying on the floor. And no, these condoms were not in their wrappers, either.

Jenny Pallais—who obviously missed her calling as a crime scene investigator—immediately collected her son’s sheets, contacted the police and had everything sent to a lab for DNA testing. And when the results were returned, they confirmed that Murray had been in the home with Jimmy. The police arrested Murray and charged her with sexual assault of a child, but soon released her on bail with the understanding that she would cease all contact with her young student.

Clearly, this didn’t happen.

Over the course of a few months, Jimmy confessed everything to his mother and then to police, who confirmed his story using hours of video surveillance footage from the school and even from the hotel the pair visited together. Prosecutors charged Murray with two more counts of sexual assault of a child, added one count of an improper relationship with a student and ordered her to wear an ankle bracelet. Of course, none of it helped since Jimmy and Murray began seeing each other secretly again.

Murray speaking with local news when allegations of the affair first surfaced (KHOU-11)

Murray speaking with local news when allegations of the affair first surfaced (KHOU-11)

And once again, their secret didn’t last, this time because Jimmy’s parents hired a private investigator to follow him. One late evening as she was “staking out” the Pallais’ home, the P.I. noticed Jimmy sneaking out and walking a short distance to meet a friend, who then drove him across town to an upscale, gated home. Jimmy jumped out and went inside, at which point the investigator contacted police and discovered who actually owned the house.

It belonged to Murray’s father. And she was already inside waiting for him, too.

The P.I. called Jimmy’s parents and by the time they arrived, police had surrounded the home and were using a loudspeaker to try to coax out the forbidden lovers. Eventually, Jimmy returned to his parents while police arrested his naughty teacher again. Murray’s bond was revoked and this time, she was thrown in jail.

Kathryn Murray had her day in court this week and, much to the chagrin of Jimmy’s parents and countless others around the country, her punishment seemed like little more than a slap on the wrist. Murray received a “felony deferred adjudication” and will serve only one year in Harris County jail. She has been ordered to surrender her teaching license—duh—and must also register as a sex offender.

Murray in custody (Sinister Existence)

Murray in custody (Sinister Existence)

And she must never contact Jimmy again, which is a directive I certainly don’t expect her to follow. Now 17 years old—and despite dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts and a host of other troubling emotions—Jimmy still has feelings for her. Granted, he claims that the love he feels for her isn’t the same as before, but it is still love. And since Jimmy answered “maybe” when asked if he would ever see Murray again, I suspect that the real answer is “yes.”

Just be sure to wait until you’re 18, okay Jimmy? At least then you’re officially responsible for your own bad decisions.

Reality Round-Up: Dumb and Disturbing

Rounding up this week’s shocking news stories (Catherine Morgan)

It’s finally Friday and like millions of people around the country, I am anxiously waiting for what I hope will be a relaxing, flu-free weekend. Of course, there are still hours to go until quitting time—the perfect amount of time for another edition of the Reality Round-Up—so here are some dumb and disturbing things that have been happening in the good old United States recently.

WOODLAND, WASHINGTON

23-year-old Teresa Hernandez appeared in court this week on charges of first-degree assault of a child. Apparently, she was home taking care of her boyfriend’s 3-year-old son and decided to punish him in some extreme and brutal ways.

Throw the damn book at Hernandez! (KPTV)

Throw the damn book at Hernandez! (KPTV)

When he got too close to her while she was ironing, Hernandez pressed the hot iron down on his hand and left it there for at least five seconds while he screamed in pain. She initially told police that he grabbed the iron by accident, but changed her story a short time later.

Hernandez also confessed to pushing the young boy down the stairs a few days after burning him with the iron. She was apparently bringing a laundry basket downstairs and pushed into the boy, who tumbled down 12 stairs and hit his head on the tile floor below. The boy was taken to Randall Children’s Hospital for surgery and, as of now, remains in fair condition.

I certainly hope this poor little guy recovers. And I hope they throw the proverbial book at this mean “witch with a capital B.” What a loser…

PORTSMOUTH, RHODE ISLAND

A few weeks ago, Portsmouth Middle School parents received a rather disturbing email informing them of even more disturbing behavior by some of their students. It seems that some kids were caught snorting Smarties, the sugary candy normally associated with Halloween and trick-or-treating.

Don't snort the Smarties! (ajc.com)

Don’t snort the Smarties! (ajc.com)

According to school officials, snorting the fruity treats causes a sugar rush—likely the same kind of rush you might get from actually eating the candy. Unfortunately for this young “users,” snorting sugar won’t get you high and could instead do damage to nasal passages. What’s worse is that school officials even claimed this behavior could lead to cigarette smoking or drug use later, which makes sense since a buzz-seeking middle school student may be more willing to experiment with different substances.

I only hope they don’t graduate to something harder… like Fun Dip or Pixie Sticks!

MUNDELEIN, ILLINOIS

A 14-year-old girl in the Chicago area was arrested on Tuesday morning and charged with murder. And what she did shocked the small Mundelein community where she lives.

Children should not play with knives (Shutterstock)

Children should not play with knives (Shutterstock)

On Monday night, the young girl reached her breaking point with her 11-year-old half-sister, who she felt was unappreciative for all the help she’d been given—her older sister often cooked dinner for her and performed other chores around the house. After deliberating for 10 or 15 minutes, the older sibling went down to the kitchen, grabbed a butcher knife and proceeded to stab her younger sister… at least 40 times!

After showering and rinsing off the blood, the young girl phoned the police and claimed an intruder had broken in and attacked her sister. Local schools were briefly placed on lockdown, but this soon ended once the young assailant confessed to her crime. And since her sister died a short time after being found, the young killer could now be tried as an adult and could spend a considerable portion of her life behind bars.

It’s sad that we live in a society where even young children resort to violence to solve problems that could easily be solved without it. School shootings get all the attention, but it’s obvious that the problem runs much deeper. And the true victims are the kids who should be learning reading, writing and arithmetic… not revenge.

STOCKTON, CALIFORNIA

It saddens me to report on this next story, but it does provide yet another example of young children taking extreme and violent measures. Only this time the child in question was an 8-year-old boy.

By all accounts, Julianni Plascencia was a happy and sensitive young boy. He served as the youngest usher at his church, loved to play football and often asked his parents to give money to homeless people on the street. Unfortunately, something changed last Saturday night… and it was something destined to change the lives of his loved ones forever.

Julianni killed himself (News10)

Julianni killed himself (News10)

While his mother was out buying groceries, Julianni told his older brother that he was going to hang himself. His brother thought he was joking and told him not to say such things or he would tell his mother. Julianni walked away and, for a while, everything seemed fine… at least until his brother realized how quiet the house became and went to see what was happening.

What happened next still shocks the hell out of me.

The older brother found Julianni in his parents’ bedroom and, sadly, he had done exactly what he said he would: he used a scarf to hang himself from the doorknob. Paramedics soon arrived on the scene and were able to get Julianni’s heart started on the way to UC Davis Medical Center, but he passed away the next morning.

Julianni’s father believes his son was only mimicking something he’d seen on television, but that certainly doesn’t make his suicide any easier to handle. And again, it seems as if our violent society has claimed yet another victim… and we all know that he won’t be the last.

It’s been a weird couple of weeks and, as you can see from these stories, a traumatic few weeks, too. Kind of makes you wonder what tomorrow will bring, doesn’t it?

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