Everyone has a different upbringing. Some children have a privileged and loving early life, others suffer abuse and some are even abandoned. It is not until we become adults that we can really own our actions and be held responsible for mistakes we make.
So who is responsible when a child makes a mistake or worse than that, commits murder? This is the story of Alyssa Bustamante.
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Alyssa Bustamante was a 15 year old girl. She was the daughter of a teenage mother who was in and out of prison for crimes such as drug possession. Her father was serving a ten year prison sentence for assault. Alyssa lived in Missouri and was known as a ‘bit of a bully’ and a ‘goth’. She lived in a small place where everyone knew each other.
One afternoon in October 2009, Alyssa’s sister was playing with nine year old Elizabeth Olten. When Elizabeth failed to return home, her parents reported her missing to authorities. She had been missing 45 minutes when the call was made. As is common when all children go missing, police looked at what sex offenders were in the area.
Signals from Elizabeth’s cell phone provided some indication of her whereabouts and led police to the woods near her home. The next morning, her battery went dead so they were unable to track the signals. Rumours quickly began to circulate around the small town that a teenager was involved in the disappearance.
It did not take long for Alyssa Bustamante to confess to the murder of Elizabeth. In fact she even took police to her body. Police found two graves in the woods, Elizabeth’s body was in one covered with leaves. She had been stabbed several times, strangled and her throat and wrists had been slashed.
Despite the early confession, when Alyssa entered her plea in December 2009, she entered a Not Guilty plea but when the case drew closer to Trial she changed her plea to guilty to second degree murder and armed criminal action in January 2012. Had she not pleaded guilty, she would have had to face a first degree murder Trial and if convicted would be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Details of who Alyssa was emerged at the sentencing hearing. Prosecutors called the case a ‘Thrill Killing’, Alyssa had killed Elizabeth to simply experience how it felt. They backed this up by showing the Court what sort of girl she was. She was an active social media user and had very much of a ‘bad girl’ image on Facebook.
There were pictures of her wearing smeared red lipstick, made to look like blood. Under her hobbies, she included “killing people” and “cutting”. She had many videos on her Youtube account. One of them was a video of her and her nine year old twin brothers.
In the video, a smiling Alyssa grabbed an electric fence and despite being completely aware of the pain, persuaded her brothers to do the same. The caption on the video read ‘This is where it gets good.
This is where we see my brothers get hurt’. Furthermore the Prosecution said that Alyssa persuaded her sister to play with Elizabeth and then Alyssa called Elizabeth and asked her to go to the woods with her. She then strangled her, slashed her neck and wrists and stabbed her numerous times. She had dug two graves a week before the murder and buried Elizabeth in one.
The Defense , in mitigation, said that Alyssa suffered from severe depression and had tried to commit suicide before the murder. She was also prone to cutting herself and they believed her use of Prozac made her more prone to violence. She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole as the Judge believed her heartfelt apology to Elizabeth’s parents was a sign that she was remorseful.
If an adult murdered Elizabeth in the way Alyssa did, there would be no doubt that they would deserve a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The murder was premeditated in the sense that the graves were dug a week before the murder.
Police believed that she intended to murder her twin brothers but changed her mind when she saw Elizabeth. There was also no remorse shown in the immediate aftermath. This is evident from Alyssa’s diary extract which was read out in Court at the sentencing hearing.
It read: “I just f**king killed someone. I strangled them and slit their throats and stabbed them. Now they’re dead. I don’t know how to feel ATM. It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the oh my gawd I can’t do this feeling it’s pretty enjoyable. I’m kinda nervous and shaking through right now. Kay. I got to go to Church. LOL”.
So while the crime was no doubt a heinous murder, one must wonder if society is to blame for a 15 year old girl brutally murdering a 9 year old girl just to ‘feel what it was like’. Alyssa was neglected from birth and cried out for help on many occasions. She tried to commit suicide several times and cut herself multiple times.
She received psychiatric treatment as a result of her last suicide attempt. So people knew how ill Alyssa was and how much she needed help yet she did not receive the help she needed. We have to wonder if someone stepped forward to help Alyssa, would this horrific crime against an innocent nine year old ever have taken place?