On March 29, Mark Castillo swallowed 100 pain-relief pills and repeatedly stabbed himself in the neck with a steak knife in a Baltimore hotel room.
Nineteen hours later, he awoke to find his suicide a failure. He had succeeded, however, in drowning his three children in the bathtub as he had threatened to do in the past.
Why was a man who threatened to kill his own kids – who ranged in age from 3 to 6 years old – able to have unsupervised visits?
Because judges in Maryland insisted he should.
“A review of the events that led to the slayings shows a mother’s determined but losing struggle in court to limit her children’s contact with their father, who has a history of mental problems,” the Washington Post reported.
However, a review of the events leading up to the slayings reveals much more than that. It reveals a sexist judicial system more concerned with the rights of a violent, unstable father than the safety of his children and his wife.
Before the incident, Amy Castillo, the 42-year-old pediatrician and estranged spouse of Mark Castillo, told police that her husband told her “the worst thing he could do to me would be to kill the children and not me.”
“She fought with every fiber of her body to protect those kids,” Amy’s neighbor June Downer told the Post. “Whoever gave visitation rights to this man without supervision is crazy … I don’t think they did enough for her.”
Downer said that by the time the couple’s third child was born, Mark’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. This behavior included taking the children out late at night and spending so much money that his wife feared they might lose their house.
As it turns out, many people deemed Mark responsible and well enough to care for the kids, despite his history of violent behavior and diagnoses of bipolar and narcissistic personality disorders.
Amy requested a restraining order against her husband on Christmas Day of 2006. At the hearing in January, she told Judge Joseph A. Dugan Jr. that her husband had told her he “could make it difficult” and “sabotage the house if he wanted to” if his visitation rights were revoked.
Dugan declined Amy’s request for a permanent order, saying he did not believe there was “clear and convincing evidence of abuse” in the case – which he called “very disturbing” – because Amy had been having sex with her husband up until the day he threatened to kill their children to punish her.
Although Amy testified that she had been sleeping with her husband because he might otherwise suspect she was taking legal action against him, Dugan felt the sex was evidence that her charges of threats and mental instability were not credible.
Court records revealed that Mark was involuntarily hospitalized in the summer of 2006 when his plans to kill himself by swallowing ant poison, duct-taping his mouth shut and then stabbing himself in the throat with a utility knife were discovered.
Psychologist C. David Missar said that although Mark admitted that he planned the suicide to make his wife “feel terrible” for taking the children, he was nonetheless a low risk to them.
In a psychological evaluation of Mark performed in the summer of 2007, psychotherapist Mark Hirschfeld wrote: “There are no reports or indications from any reliable, unbiased source indicating that any of his behaviors has placed his children at physical risk or risk of other types of significant harm. It remains clear that his children are his priority.”
In late June 2007, Judge Michael D. Mason cited Hirschfield’s prognosis as grounds to deny a request made by Amy to halt Mark’s visitation rights.
Mark drowned his children two and a half hours before he was scheduled to bring them back to his wife’s residence. When he did not return, Amy called the police a total of three times that night and the next morning. She reported that her husband – who she said had “mental health issues” – had yet to return their children.
Lt. Paul Starks told the Post that the force is “looking at our own actions to determine if there is anything we could have or should have done that might have prevented this tragedy.”
Of course, this seemingly endless series of instances in which Amy relied on local and governmental authorities to protect the lives of herself and her children proved all too tragic.
Amy’s repeated calls to the police while, as it turns out, her children were dying in a hotel room went ignored. Isn’t it amazing that harboring stereotypical concepts about the so-called “hysterical, overprotective mother” who is simply emotional can have such catastrophic results?
Dugan’s rulings about Amy’s sexual relationship with her husband reflect the archaic beliefs that women cannot be raped by their husbands and that if sex occurs in a relationship, it is automatically a healthy one.
The fact that judges and doctors said Mark wasn’t considered a threat despite documented evidence that he was mentally unstable – including planning “revenge” murders and suicides to punish his wife – is absurd.
Government officials and professionals ignored the warnings and fears of a woman who was involved in the everyday happenings of this disturbed man’s life because they somehow thought they knew better.
This tragedy is a glaring indication not only of the sexist powers that disenfranchise women, but of a governmental tendency to institutionalize family to the point that it assumes itself to be more informed than the individuals within one.
Renee Sessions is a senior majoring in creative writing.