Did the antipathy of family courts and child welfare agencies for fathers cost Ramie and Timothy Grimmer their lives?
In what’s become a case of national notoriety, the children’s mother, Rachelle Grimmer walked into a food stamp office in Laredo, Texas, children in tow, barricaded herself in an office and, after a seven-hour standoff with police, shot both children and then herself. Rachelle died at the scene, while the children were life-flighted to a San Antonio hospital. Ramie died the next day and Timothy, his father at his bedside, was taken off life support the next day. Ramie was 12 and Timothy 10.
Here’s one article on the case (New York Times, 12/10/11). Here’s another (CBS News, 12/9/11).
Since then, much coverage of the case has aimed at casting the blame on the Texas Department of Health and Human Services for denying her food stamps. The Department answers those charges by saying that Grimmer, over some five months and numerous attempts to contact her, never provided the required information about her income. Without that, of course, no one can qualify for food stamps.
Even at that, once she was in the Department’s office, holding a .38 caliber pistol, the agency agreed to provide her benefits amounting to over $3,000, but she killed herself and her children anyway. So it doesn’t look like the callousness of state bureaucrats will suffice to deflect blame from Mom in this case.
Exactly who Rachelle Grimmer was seems a matter for debate. Some people claim she had mental problems, but those who got to know her say otherwise. One neighbor at the mobile home park she lived in with her kids described her this way:
“She was a very intelligent person and a very wonderful person, a very good mother. She was not mentally ill…”A very good mother? I don’t think so. From what’s been published so far, she was a hobo and made hobos of her kids. She grew up in Montana, but moved from place to place, including Ohio and Texas. She apparently never had a job and lived exclusively off the child support her ex-husband Dale Grimmer provided.
At one point, the three were so poor they lived in a tent on the beach near Corpus Christi. Child Protective Services was called out but concluded that the children had the requisites of life - food and shelter – and were not being injured by their mother. Case closed.
Some time later, Grimmer moved to a mobile home park near Laredo. There she sold their only vehicle meaning they had to walk everywhere they went and making any job search she might have wanted to conduct all but impossible.
Grimmer applied for food stamps, but was disqualified for emergency services because she received child support. Still, non-emergency food stamps take only about 12 days to receive if proof of income has been given to the DHHS. Grimmer never did that. The agency sent her numerous letters requesting it and finally closed her file with yet another letter explaining that the reason was her failure to provide the documentation.
The next thing anyone knew, Grimmer was marching into the DHHS office with her two children, a pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition. She took a hostage and dickered with the Department and police for seven hours. Proof that she had been awarded benefits was slipped under the office door in which the three were locked. Soon, she hung up the phone with which she was communicating to hostage negotiators, murdered her two children and took her own life.
Predictably, in all the many articles written about the horrific events of that day, the father, Dale Grimmer is barely mentioned. But what we do know is that his mother has told reporters that her son tried three times before - twice in Montana and once in Ohio – to get custody away from his wife. He was refused every time.
Likewise, Rachelle Grimmer was well known to state CPS agencies wherever she went. That’s not hard to understand. A woman who maintains her children in such a state of extreme poverty and deprivation gets people’s attention and some of them report her to child welfare authorities. But as far as we know now, no such agency ever intervened on behalf of the children.
That seems to include the usual failure of CPS to contact the father when children are in want or in danger. If any child welfare agency ever contacted Dale Grimmer, no one’s reported it yet, but he was obviously easy to find. After all, a little over a day after his children were shot, he was at the hospital. That likely means someone contacted him. Likewise, he must be known to the Texas Attorney General’s Office because he regularly paid child support.
I certainly don’t argue that, in some way, CPS caseworkers should have anticipated Rachelle Grimmer’s mayhem. But child welfare agencies in more than one state knew she was an extremely marginal parent. And yet not one of them thought to ask “would the father be a better alternative?”
Into the bargain, what CPS seemed not to know, Ramie Grimmer knew all too well. During the stand-off with police, Ramie posted to her FaceBook page the message “may die 2day.”
So what we seem to have is a terrible mother who did much damage to her children long before she killed them. The children lived in extreme poverty and yet there’s no evidence that this highly intelligent woman ever worked for a living or ever attempted to. Faced with that, we have a father who was responsible enough to pay his child support, but couldn’t manage to convince anyone – not family courts or child welfare authorities – that he should have custody of his children.
Now they’re dead.
Meanwhile, the news media covering the case show neither the insight nor the curiosity to consider Dale Grimmer. They, like the family courts and child welfare agencies before them, don’t ask the simple, obvious question the Urban Institute asked five years ago “what about the dad?”