Why are we so quick to blame PTSD in Berks slayings?

20160808-Short-family
Mark Short with his wife, Megan, and their children, Willow, Liana, and Mark. Megan posted a Facebook request for help moving out of the home she and her husband Mark shared on August 6, the day she died, along with her entire family, in a murder-suicide.

For Julie Keeton, the only thing worse than learning that the Short family died over the weekend - the result of a murder-suicide - has been the presumption by some that Megan Short, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, was the shooter.

"Media outlets are spinning a narrative that the PTSD could've been her motive," says Keeton, a friend of Short. "I don't believe for a minute that she did this."

Keeton seethes at headlines like "MOTHER STRUGGLED WITH EMOTIONS," in Monday's Reading Eagle. The paper covers the Berks County town of Sinking Spring, where Short lived and was found dead of gunshot wounds along with her husband, Mark, and kids Lianna, 8, Mark Jr., 5 and Willow, 2.

The Eagle story heavily excerpted an April blog post by Short in which she described how she developed  post-traumatic stress disorder after Willow was born with a congenital heart defect in May of 2014. The infant underwent a heart transplant at six days old and, as of April, had been doing well.

But the PTSD still reared its head, Short wrote, in intermittent anxiety and depression that she was handling it with therapy, medication and support.

Other news outlets reported on the PTSD, too, and Keeton was horrified by some readers' automatic assumptions that Short killed her family in a bout of PSTD-induced violence.

"She is NOT a victim," wrote one commenter. "She is a privileged murderer."

Others were more sympathetic about Short's (presumed) guilt.

"The stress of a mother caretaking an ill infant is not easy . . . ," wrote one.

Another surmised that finances figured into Short's act of mayhem: "She was a young mother to 3 and so much stress [sic] ... we do not have the whole story but debt ... may have been ... a part of this."

The comments make Keeton furious.

"Megan loved her babies and fought for Willow with all of her heart and soul," she says adamantly.

"She was a champion advocate for transplant families. She was always the first to offer support and comfort to families who were given devastating news. She talked about the emotional roller-coaster of caring for a sick child because she wanted other parents of sick children to know they weren't alone."

Short and Keeton, who lives in Tennessee, met at CHOP. Baby Willow had just undergone her heart transplant and was a patient on the same floor where Keeton's son Weston, 7, had stayed before and after a heart and double-lung transplant (Weston died four months after surgery).

The women bonded over experiences that only parents of terribly sick children can understand.

"You feel torn between staying at the hospital with your child or being home with your other kids, who still need you," says Keeton, who, with her husband Adam, has seven surviving children. "You feel helpless beyond comprehension, watching your child lay there, knowing the odds are stacked against them and having no control over the outcome. The stress is unrelenting."

Who knows whether such stress led to Short's recent decision to leave her husband, which she referred to in a July 23 comment to a Facebook friend, as reported by the Eagle. She cited abuse as the reason "why I am leaving my marriage" of 16 years. An unidentified friend of Short's told heavy.com that Short had been in a relationship with another "transplant mom" and that her husband was enraged by it.

A week ago, Short posted a Facebook request for help moving out of the home she and her husband shared.

The moving date: August 6, the day of the murder-suicide.

Does this mean that Mark Short murdered his wife and kids? That's for investigators to figure out. The shooter in this case left a suicide note.

But two things are important to note, no matter the outcome:

Statistics show that women are at highest risk of injury or violence when they are separating from or divorcing a partner. And studies show that individuals with PTSD are not inherently dangerous.

Obviously, outliers exist in both groups and may exist here.

But it's unfair to immediately use Megan Short's brave admission about having PTSD as the most likely reason she and her family are gone.

Says Keeton, "I want people to remember that Megan was a great mom. I want them to know it's normal for any parent dealing with a chronically sick child to develop PTSD, because it is traumatic to live with the constant possibility of your child dying."

It's been two years since her own son passed away, but Keeton still has her own PTSD moments, when traumatic memories of Weston's long, hard medical odyssey come roaring back to her.

"There's a ring-tone some people have on their phones that sounds exactly like the code-bell on Weston's floor," she says of the electronic hospital alarm that summons help when a child is having a cardiac emergency. "When I hear it, my heart just stops."

But the sound has never, ever made her want to pick up a gun and use it on the family she loves.

polaner@phillynews.com

215-854-2217 @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

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