This week marks the start of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The math is daunting. Last year, the Stark County Department of Job and Family Services' hotline fielded 7,000 phone calls; 2,892 of which required further action. The agency also handled more than 17,400 substantiated and/or indicated reports of child abuse and neglect in 2016.
Those are just the incidents reported.
There's no way to determine how much Tres Peterson's childhood might have affected his decision to murder three people and take his own life last week at a home on Smith Avenue NW, but it doesn't take Sigmund Freud to know that one's early life directly affects how well one navigates adulthood.
Relatives said Peterson and his brother were taken from their parents as youngsters due to severe neglect. Nonetheless, the family is shocked and appalled he would commit such an act.
"He's not a monster," his grandmother told a WEWS News 5 reporter.
Maybe not a monster, but certainly a damaged person. A childhood pockmarked with neglect and abuse and the self-sabotage it often engenders probably has done more to destroy more adults than anything else in life.
An upbringing wracked with dysfunction, instability and mayhem can engulf a child in perpetual anger and poison the adult he or she becomes. Abuse can smother even the most brilliant person's potential.
Children have parents for a reason. We humans are the only animals that require years, sometimes decades, of instruction and guidance. Yet, we actually expect children shuttled through the foster-care system — if they're even that lucky — somehow to turn out on par with a kid living in a two-parent home in Hills and Dales.
We get huffy when teachers, who have to double as bouncers and nannies, fail to turn out Rhodes Scholars.
As more parents, and even custodial grandparents, fall prey to drug addiction, the demand for child protective services only will grow. How many future doctors, scientists, good citizens have been lost to someone else's addiction and the chaos that comes with it?
Our childhood memories, good and bad, are like foundational stones. Though kids in foster care aren't given a lot of help as they age out, from all indications, it appears Peterson was trying to carve out a decent life for himself. He was a part-time member of the U.S. Army Reserves with a goal of full-time service, and he held a second job.
Even so, there might have been a warning sign. In 2016, Peterson was charged with telecommunications harassment for obsessively calling another woman.
Though there's no evidence that moment of violence ever passed between Peterson and his ex-fiancee, Cheyenne Calderon, one of his victims, who knows whether their recent break-up was a tripwire for feelings of abandonment, which can haunt and stalk and twist a person's thinking?
What we do know is that something went terribly wrong.
Now, let's be clear: A bad childhood, no matter how awful, is no defense for Tres Peterson's actions. Cheyenne Calderon, her mother and their family friend did nothing to deserve their fate.
Calderon's little son certainly should not have to grow up motherless. If anyone should have understood how it feels to be separated from your parent, it should have been Tres Peterson. His tragic childhood does not provide an excuse for what he did, but it might help to explain it.
If you have concerns or suspect a possible case of abuse or neglect, call the Children's Services 24-hour abuse/neglect hotline at 330-455-5437 or 800-233-5437, or visit www.starkjfs.org/children-services-division.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP