As they said in the ’80s: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.
Victoria’s Secret theft-prevention professionals searching the bag of a suspected teen shoplifter with appallingly questionable coping skills detected a whiff of death emanating from the girl’s bag, which in addition to possibly pilfered jeans and lingerie, contained a dead fetus wrapped in a black plastic bag, according to numerous news reports. The teenager, who New York Daily News reported lives in Brooklyn with her mother and 2-year-old son, was identified as 17-year-old Tiona Rodriguez (older teens accused of crimes are treated as adults in New York), was arrested on petit larceny and possession of stolen property charges along with a friend. Rodriguez told police that she had miscarried the day before and didn’t know what to do with the baby, but an autopsy – although inconclusive – prompted authorities to suspect that the baby was born alive and later asphyxiated.
Michael Daly wrote for The Daily Beast that Rodriguez’s friend started crying when handcuffs were put on her, but “Rodriquez remained expressionless, an absence of manifest feeling that seemed to reflect a heart that is not so much cold as closed off…The eyes behind her glasses showed nothing at all. She could have been awaiting the arrival of a bus, or perhaps that part of herself that must have departed when she carried around the corpse of her eight-and-a-half pound baby boy.” Naturally, the prosecutor was even less charitable, reportedly requesting bail be set for $1,000 while noting “…shoplifting with the baby in her bag the entire time certainly suggests a little bit of difficulty following society’s rules.”
Horrific teen infanticide stories are usually widely reported, but unsurprisingly, that Rodriguez’s desire for new duds trumped the need to dispose of her dead baby in a timely fashion has generated more news stories than usual. Although her actions indicate that she could be in a state of deep denial or depression, thus far, neighbors describe her as a nice, normal girl, and in addition to selfies and complaints of cramps gleaned from Rodriguez’s Facebook page, the New York Daily News also reported that she posted an update recently saying she was excited about an upcoming job interview at Chipotle.
Most people who read about this case will probably ask, “How could anyone do such a thing?” and speculate about the girl’s mental health. But I’ve been wondering if this story will also spawn hysterical news analyses claiming that Rodriguez’s actions exemplify the lack of empathy in this cold, thoughtless Internet generation. A study of college-aged kids published in Personality and Social Psychology Review in 2011 and that generated a lot of media attention concluded that 75 percent of kids rate themselves as less empathetic than students did 30 years ago in a meta-analysis of self-reported data. Researchers reported that the drop in empathy in the last 10 years has been particularly steep and that narcissism among this age group is soaring. People in general like to say that thanks to our phones, social isolation is increasing, and kids in particular are disconnected, constantly texting and preferring chatting online to actual human interaction.
Although it’s certainly not difficult to find examples of teens behaving coldly, isn’t every generation of teenagers accused of not being as thoughtful as the generation before it? I know mine was. We were compared unfavorably as apathetic do-nothings inferior to the counterculture baby boomers of the1960s. And those idealistic, world-changing young people were dismissed by many older folks at the time as useless, dirty hippies. And of course, some of them were.
Whether anyone will delve into this idea remains to be seen, but so far, all I’m concluding from Rodriguez’s story is that people sometimes do really fucked up things.
This story has me considering my own capacity for empathy, actually, considering that despite how horrific it is, I can’t help thinking of dead-baby jokes related to it (“Why did the dead baby go shopping at Victoria’s Secret? Because bargain prices are in the bag.” “How many stolen pairs of skinny jeans does it take to conceal a dead baby?”) Stone, stone-cold.