Refuse to Drown by Tim Kreider is a difficult book to read. It’s not the writing, which is simple, straightforward, and compelling. It’s the story that Kreider has to tell.
Krieder’s son Alec, at 16, murdered a close friend and his friend’s parents by stabbing them to death. The friend’s sister, home early from college, escaped unharmed, likely because Alec didn’t realize she was asleep in the house.
For several weeks afterward the killings, no one knew who the murderer was. Funerals were held; Alec attended his friend’s service. People in this Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, town locked doors and looked over their shoulders.
The murders and the investigation unfold over a few short weeks. Police hit a dead-end. It looks as if the truth will never be known.
And then Alec tells a friend on the phone that he’s considering killing himself. His divorced parents intervene. He’s sent to a state institution for evaluation. It is there, during a visit by his parents, that he confesses to the murders. The institution can’t legally inform the police. Alec himself isn’t likely to. It falls to his parents, and especially his father, to decide what to do next.
It may seem like an obvious decision. But it wasn’t. You have a child you is clearly mentally ill. He’s committed a terrible crime. His siblings, parents, extended family, and friends will face consequences of their own. Alec himself hopes nothing has to be reported to the police.
Tim Kreider does what he knows he has to do. He knows the odds are better than good that his son may have to spend the rest of life in prison. But he also knows how a family was destroyed and crimes committed, at the hands of his own son.
This isn’t every parent’s worst nightmare, but it became the Kreider family’s worst nightmare. Most of us will never have to deal with what Kreider and his family had to deal with –comprehending what happened, the arrest, the trial and sentencing. And most of us will never experience what the victims’ family had to experience – the horror, the loss, the lives changed irrevocably and forever. It’s a story filled with shock, disbelief, and tears.
No one “wins” in Refuse to Drown. But it ultimately becomes a story about faith, about realizing that there is much in this life we simply can’t control, about understanding that doing the right thing is often doing the hard thing, like turning over a child you love to the judicial authorities, and likely forever.
It’s a hard book to read. But I’m glad I did.
Note: Refuse to Drown was co-authored by writer Shawn Smucker.
Photograph by Maliz Ong via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.