Update: The tragedy at PS 58 really has us all in a sad state, thinking of what must have gone through Lisette Bamenga’s head when she killed her children. Read this, a thoughtful essay by Bamenga’s fellow teacher, who wrote something for the Huffington Post that looks at the pressure caused by our lack of paid maternity leave in the U.S.: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olivia-ramsey/paid-maternity-leave-_b_1695974.html
The Carroll Gardens PS 58 elementary school community is in shock and grief after a third grade teacher, Lisette Bamenga, 29, went mad and killed her two children, ages 4 months and 5 years, last week. After the gruesome act, Bamenga tried to kill herself by slitting her wrists and turning on the gas in her Bronx apartment, but firemen broke down the door and rushed her to the hospital.
According to news accounts, Bamenga, a third grade teacher at the school’s popular French immersion elementary program, fed her children car de-icing fluid, which is colorless and tasteless, in juice, before drowning the children, dressing them, sealing the windows and turning on the stove gas in the apartment. She left notes asking not to be resuscitated and is said to be in a suicidal state. She is charged with first-degree murder and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
Meanwhile, the international parents of kids in her class are struggling with the news. Mother Margarita Sánchez wrote an essay to express her feelings about what happened:
How do I Tell my Daughter the Importance of Understanding that a Good Human Being Can Make a Terrible Mistake?
How is it possible to change the perception of someone that we know from one day to another? Why do we decide to cross out good memories after we learn that a person has fallen in disgrace and has done something impossible to understand?
My daughter, Pauline, entered third grade in September 2012. She began with enthusiasm a new year at PS 58 in Brooklyn. She came back home the first day full of stories about her classmates and her new teachers. During the first weeks, Pauline spoke a lot about her main French teacher, Madame Bamenga, someone gentle but strict at the same time. When I saw Lisette for the first time at the school yard, I immediately felt her good energy. I saw her walking in front of her class, with a Caribbean swing, a beautiful smile and pigtales. I felt from the beginning that, in her perception, her bond with my daughter was more important than the relationship that I was going to establish with her. It was very savvy on her part and I respected that from the start.
I got to know Lisette Bamenga a little bit. Our conversations were informal, but reassuring, and I was glad to know that Pauline’s teacher was a person from African descent who was born in France but lived in the United States from an early age. The mixture of cultures and experiences would bring something new to my daughter’s education. She made a great team with the English teacher who was also new at PS 58. My husband and I saw them together at parent-teacher conferences and I also asked for their help and support during the school year. They were both understanding and open minded, but sincere and direct, something that I appreciated. I know that it was not always easy for both of them.
Madame Bamenga taught my daughter great lessons, persuaded her to do her best in different subjects, and gave her affection. She reminded her about the importance of discipline, was strict with her and I am very grateful for her dedication as a teacher. Pauline is a more avid reader after this year, is more respectful and affectionate. Lisette’s influence is without a doubt very significant.
Those memories of her are here with me and I will make sure that Pauline keeps them in her mind and heart. What I learned about Lisette Bamenga through the press has nothing to do with my experience with her and I have decided to concentrate on the person that I got to know this year. What happened? Why? I don’t have the answers…My conviction is that she does not have them either…I only know that Lisette is a gentle teacher, and I am very grateful with her for all of the valuable hours that she spent with my daughter and other children this past year. I wish I could be close to her right now to give her a hug.
Some parents are struggling with how to tell their children, while others, like Sanchez, are grieving for the woman who must live after killing her baby girl and kindergarten-aged son. City prosecutors are charging Bamenga with two counts of first-degree murder.
Bamenga may have been in a jealous rage, as she accused her husband, an NYPD police officer, of fathering a baby with another woman, and wrote in a suicide note, “You got what you wanted.”
Some moms suspect that postpartum depression played a role in the tragic act. Some 15 percent of women suffer from postpartum depression in the year after giving birth, and in rare, extreme cases, devoted mothers can face psychosis or delusions that include strong urges to kill their children in order to protect them from perceived harm or danger.
Bamenga took only a few weeks off from work after having her little girl. She had a long commute from the Bronx to Carroll Gardens and was out of school a week before the tragedy.