November 1, 2013

Nemitz: Risk of tragic outcome followed Collins-Faunce

After the tearful testimony, after the recitation of how Gordon Collins-Faunce ended his 10-week-old son’s life in a moment of uncontrolled anger, after the judge handed down the 20-year prison sentence, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese paused outside the York County Courthouse to reflect on a painful reality.

Jan Collins and Irv Faunce leave the York County Courthouse in Alfred on Wednesday after their son Gordon Collins-Faunce was sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing his infant son last year.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

AIRING IT OUT

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“Standing back, we can all say, ‘Boy, that was an intervention point … and that was an intervention point,’ ” Marchese said. “And it’s most unfortunate that no one ever stepped in to save this child.”

“Most unfortunate” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Gordon Collins-Faunce, 24, said next to nothing Wednesday as Justice John O’Neil accepted his guilty pleas to manslaughter and assault in the death of his son Ethan in May of 2012 at their home in Arundel.

But Jan Collins, Collins-Faunce’s adoptive mother, had plenty to say about a child welfare system that, in her opinion, should have seen this coming. Starting, she told the court, with the documented baggage that accompanied young Gordon when he and his two sisters arrived at the doorstep of her and her husband, Irv Faunce, 15 long years ago.

“Kicks, puncture marks, head injuries, facial injuries, shaking or tossing, witness to abuse of animals, witness to abuse of siblings, lack of affection, failure to thrive, infestations, lack of nurturance, lack of medical attention, intentional poisoning, forced to observe and participate in sexual activity, oral sex, intercourse, forced masturbation … the list goes on,” Collins read through her tears.

“But the list wasn’t just for Gordon’s birth home,” she continued. “The list includes three homes that followed – three homes provided by (Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services) as part of the foster program.”

Put more simply, what went around in Gordon Collins-Faunce’s hellish childhood eventually came around in his early adulthood. The boy who thought he’d gone to heaven when his adoptive parents welcomed him and his sisters into their home (and hearts) back in 1997 is now a man – convicted not just of abusing his own child, but of killing him.

All of which raises a vexing question about the so-called cycle of child abuse: Was this inevitable? Was Collins-Faunce, despite the love and care showered on him in his adoptive home for nine years before he struck out on his own, destined to inflict on his offspring the same horrors that decimated his own early childhood?

“A bad outcome is not an inevitability – we do have good interventions for turning kids around who have had a bad beginning,” said David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, in an interview Thursday.

That said, Finkelhor added, “the dangers and risks are still there and there may be some kids who are so badly damaged that a tragic outcome is a pretty high likelihood.”

Identifying that latter group, while there’s still time, is the hard part.

By Collins’ account, the near-decade she and her husband shared with Gordon and his two sisters was by any measure “the good years.”

“For all they had been through, Gordon and his sisters were full of laughter, eager to please, ready to enjoy and experience all that they had missed,” she told the judge, recalling how polite and well-behaved the kids were in public and at home, how they never hit one another, how they played in the school band, how they loved to camp, how they once donated their allowances to a heating fuel fund …

“Still,” Collins said, “the clock was ticking.”

One by one in their late teens, without their adoptive parents’ knowledge, the three siblings reconnected with their birth parents. And as they reforged those dysfunctional bonds, the Collins-Faunce family’s tenderly woven tapestry began to unravel.

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