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Parricide of Social Workers
February 25, 2015 permalink
Jason Hendrix, the adopted son of Kevin and Sarah Hendrix, murdered his adoptive parents and a twelve-year-old sibling, then died later in a shootout with police. Both parents were in social services and were the kinds of professionals who should have been able to prevent this kind of tragedy. Father Kevin Hendrix worked for the Whitley County (Kentucky) Circuit Court Clerk as a domestic violence and disability intake clerk. Mother Sarah Hendrix was a social worker and professor at Union College.
Adopted children bear a burden unknown in past generations. When they reach the age of reason, they come to understand that they are not abandoned by their parents, but stolen by the social services system. The burden is accentuated when the adoptive parents are the kinds of professionals who mediate the child theft.
Family's murder shocks Ky. social workers
Dr. Sarah Hendrix built what seemed, to her closest friends, a perfect family.
She was a prominent social worker and professor at Union College, dedicated to mending Kentucky's broken families. She and her husband, Kevin, were hobby beekeepers, a regular presence at their small-town farmer's market, who fell in love with two foster children, adopted them and raised them alongside their own biological children.
"I thought they hung the moon," said Dr. Peggy Munke, a close friend and director of Murray State's social work program.
But what happened to the Hendrix family this month sent tremors through the social work community across the state. Sarah Hendrix, her husband and her 12-year-old daughter Gracie, a bubbly middle school cheerleader, were murdered in the sort of violent explosion she spent her life trying to prevent in other people's families.
Her son, Jason Hendrix, 16 — a straight-laced high school junior and member of the ROTC, a devout church-goer, who by all accounts adored his family — is believed to have shot all three, one by one, as they walked into their Corbin home on a Wednesday afternoon.
No one knows why.
Then the boy loaded six guns into his mom's SUV, drove to Baltimore and opened fire on police officers who tried to stop him. The teen died in the shootout.
"What happened to her is exactly what we're in this business to avoid," said Dr. Ruth Huber, who mentored Sarah Hendrix as a doctoral student at the University of Louisville. "As social workers we like to fix things, to make them better. But there's no fixing this. We can't even find the very first answers: why? What happened?"
'Sometimes, there are no explanations'
Jason Hendrix arrived at his church for youth group around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 11. Nothing seemed amiss, said Drew Mahan, pastor of Forward Community Church, a non-denominational church the Hendrix family had joined several years earlier.
"He was totally normal, the same Jason we'd always known and loved," Mahan said. He gave kids piggyback rides; he'd recently bought a guitar and was trying to learn worship songs.
Mahan said he gave them no reason to worry, no indication that he had, according to police, just massacred his entire family and left their bodies in their tidy, suburban home.
Corbin police said each member of the family was killed between 4 and 6 p.m., according to The News-Journal in Corbin.
Each was shot multiple times in the head as they entered the home, police told the newspaper. Jason Hendrix allegedly put pillows to their faces to muffle the thunder of the gunfire. Kevin Hendrix died wearing the jacket and tie he wore to work; Sarah was believed to have been attacked on her way in from the garage.
"How am I making sense of it? I'm not. And I don't think we will ever be able to make sense of it at all," Mahan said. "We have replayed this thing in our minds, looking for what we all might have missed. But as difficult as it is to understand, I think there's nothing."
Their bodies were not discovered for three days, after Jason Hendrix was killed in a gun battle with police more than 600 miles away. Baltimore police alerted Kentucky authorities that something might be wrong at the house.
The Baltimore Sun reported Jason Hendrix had with him a backpack full of ammunition and six guns — four .38-caliber revolvers, a 9 mm pistol and a double-barreled shotgun.
By then, no one had heard from his family for days.
Kevin Hendrix worked for the Whitley County Circuit Court Clerk as a domestic violence and disability intake clerk. Donna Broughton, his supervisor, said she received a text message from Kevin Hendrix's phone on Wednesday evening. The message said he'd come down with something — a sore throat and vomiting — and wouldn't be at work the next day. Broughton does not know if Kevin Hendrix sent the message himself.
Mahan said he recently counseled Jason and Kevin Hendrix through a problem in their relationship, but it was a typical teenager disagreement and both seemed eager to work through it.
The entire family was active in the church, he said, which held its weekend services in a Cineplex. They arrived at 7 a.m. on Sundays to help set up: Jason always hung lights and swept the parking lot; Kevin took out the trash, Gracie set up the chairs.
Jason was polite and "happy-go-lucky," he said. He had a lot of friends and mentored the younger kids.
Munke, who often traveled to conferences with Sarah Hendrix, said the family was close. Sarah often talked about her children and how proud she was of who they were growing up to be.
"She was the kind of person who embodied what we hope a good social worker would be," Munke said. "She loved life, loved living and saw the funny in the world."
But the Hendrixes recently caught Jason circumventing parental controls on his computer to access gaming sites. They were angry at him and took his computer and phone privileges away, Munke said
Some have suggested that his rage over that punishment led to the killings.
Munke, a professor of social work and mental health, believes it was shame, not fury.
The Hendrixes began fostering Jason when he was barely over 1 year old and adopted him soon after, she said. Adopted children often feel a deeper sense of obligation to their parents, she said. And with that comes a greater need for approval.
"He was so used to being an almost perfect kid, he didn't know how to handle it when his parents were disappointed in him," Munke said. "And he snapped. Sometimes there are no explanations."
Coping with tragedy
Kentucky's most prominent social workers, in all corners of the state, are left grappling with questions of a magnitude they imagined they'd only consider from a professional distance.
"I've seen a fair amount of violence, I used to work with street gangs, but when it happens to someone you know, it's unsettling," said Dr. Terry Singer, dean of the University of Louisville's Kent School of Social Work. "Nobody ever thinks that will happen in their circle. It's eerie, it's a different experience, there aren't many words you can find to describe it."
Sarah Hendrix was already a successful businesswoman when she enrolled in the Kent School's doctoral program, which she completed in 2006. Kevin Hendrix worked for the clerk's office and was passionate about his bees. Broughton recalls a day he asked to run to the post office to pick up a delivery: a new queen bee. He returned with a tiny box, fed her honey and showed her off to his co-workers.
The family's two oldest children, both away at school, survived. Fred Thomas, Sarah Hendrix' son from a previous marriage, is a student at the University of Kentucky. The Hendrixes' oldest daughter, Lizzy, goes to Berry College, a private school in Georgia. The family was often seen in the neighborhood, walking its miniature pinscher.
"Our family has been affected by the most horrific of tragedies," the family wrote in a statement. "All of us are attempting to make sense of this loss. We are buoyed by the love and support of so many of you who knew and loved Sarah, Kevin, Jason and Gracie."
Dr. Barbara Head, a professor at the University of Louisville, who studied with Sarah Hendrix, said her most startling realization last week was that no one, not even one of most highly regarded social workers in the state, is immune from family violence; no one can be sure they'd see it coming.
"I teach death and grief, but that doesn't make it any easier for me," Head said. "It's so shocking and surreal you don't really grieve the loss of that person until you can answer the question of why. And there are no answers in this case. It's a meaningless, tragic death. ... So the person you're grieving gets lost in the details of how it all happened. And sometimes it takes quite awhile to get back to that person."
The family chose to have all four — including Jason — side-by-side at a joint funeral Sunday. They were all to be buried together — what Hendrix would have wanted, Munke believes.
Some of Hendrix's friends are left looking for some sort of meaning. Huber sent an email around the social work communities, called "Promises that Comfort Me." She listed Bible passages she hopes might help them cope: "I will carry you," she included. "I will give you rest."
But for Singer, there's no comfort, no lesson to be learned to make their deaths meaningful.
"There's no takeaway, just sadness," the doctor said. "I suppose that's one of the reasons I stay in this business is the hope that we can find ways to prevent this. But people are complex and problems are complex. I know we really desire to wrap them up neatly, because if we can understand it, we can control it. It's never that simple."
Reporter Claire Galofaro can be reached at (502) 582-7086. Follow her on Twitter at @clairegalofaro.
An account has been set up to help the Hendrix' family pay for funeral expenses and associated costs. Donations can be made at gofundme.com/mjgq4w