Shawn Paul Novak, 16; Double Child Murderer
Concerning My Personal Experience and That of The Victims of Shawn Paul Novak
On a sunny day in March of 1991, I was sitting at home pouting after having been grounded by my mother for getting (yet another) in-school suspension for smoking in the boys room, when I received a knock on my front door. It was my friend Shawn who wanted to know if I could come and hang out in the woods where we often built forts and played. I told him no – that I was grounded and that I’d see him around. That evening on the news, two boys from our Virginia Beach military housing neighborhood were reported missing. The next day, a hunt for the two boys was in full force, and sadly their bodies were found in the woods under some leaves and fallen trees. Oddly enough, not only were they the same woods where Shawn and I often played, but he was also the one who reportedly found the bodies during the search.
Not long after, it was discovered that Shawn had intercepted the two boys, Daniel Wayne Geier and Christopher “Scot” Weaver, ages 9 and 7 respectively, along a wooded path they were taking as a shortcut to the local 7-11and viciously murdered them with a large hunting knife he had borrowed from my friend John. In court he described the murder as very fast, very brutal, and almost as if he was watching himself do it from outside of his body. The only motive I ever heard that he gave was “I just wanted to see what it would feel like…to kill them.”
After being questioned by police as a suspect (several people had seen me go in and out of those woods recently, and when I’d gotten suspended I’d said something like “I just feel like killing somebody” or some equally ignorant 14 year old punk-ass remark which the principal had told police), I was sufficiently shaken. I will tell you, there’s nothing quite like having your own parents wonder if their son is a murderer. Thankfully they busted Shawn the next day after the police questioned me, but it was a grueling and terrifying couple of days before that. For many years after I had nightmares that I actually had been the murderer, or that I’d gone out to the woods with Shawn alone that day after all and he killed me instead, or that I just stood there and watched Daniel and Scot die. I bring this up because I had been on the periphery of the events, and yet they affected me deeply and profoundly – but what about someone closer to the center of the tragedy? What about the friends of the victims? Their siblings? Their parents?
It was a very high profile case because of the grisly double murder of two young boys by a 16 year old, who they tried as an adult He had slit both their throats and nearly decapitated the youngest. He got “40 years to life” and was denied his first parole in 2012. Virginia law allows Novak to be eligible for parole every three years from now till he dies. This means that both sets of parents have to revisit the tragedy every three years now when they petition the parole board not to release their sons’ killer.
"It never leaves you. There's not a day goes by that I don't remember. There's part of me missing. There's a part of our family that is gone forever.” - Daniel Geier's Mother
“It's gotten easier over the years, but losing Daniel is not something that I will ever be able to just get over.” (Scot’s sister, Brandy). (Hieatt, 2012)
There are between 1400 and 1800 children murdered in the United States every year. According to the CDC, homicide is the fourth leading cause of death of children. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016) The most common murderer of children is a family member, but the FBI reports that acquaintances, such as Shawn who was a neighbor of the boys he slew and had been seen playing with them in the neighborhood several times before, are the second most likely killers accounting for around 30% of responsibility for all child murders. This number may actually be higher, since around 20% of cases involving murdered children involve an unknown assailant. That brings the final number of children murdered in the US by a non-family member to a little over 500 a year. So about a thousand parents like Daniel’s and Scot’s find themselves in a similar crisis each year. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1980-2002)
Each year approximately 15,000 men, women, and children are victims of criminal homicide in the United States. As staggering as that figure is, it does not begin to indicate the toll of suffering that homicide extracts. If one estimates that each of its victims is survived by a minimum of three loved ones for whom the violent death will produce deep and bitter grief, the annual casualty rate escalates to over 45,000 individuals. And if one appreciates the intensity and duration of the trauma suffered by these survivors, we can conservatively estimate that we have in our midst APPROXIMATELY A HALF MILLION wounded and scarred Americans, all victims of the murders of just the past decade.
There is Help Available
For families like Daniel and Scot’s and the thousands of others who have lost a child to murder, there are thankfully some programs available to help them cope with their grief. The largest and most prolific of these is Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) which was founded in 1978 by the parents of a murdered teenage girl. Since its inception, the organization has helped families cope with the trauma of a murdered child.
Groups like POMC provide the on-going emotional support needed to help parents and other survivors facilitate the reconstruction of a "new life" and to promote a healthy resolution. It is common for family members to experience PTSD, depression, anxiety and any number of related issues. Not only does POMC help survivors deal with their acute grief and psychological distress, but it also helps with the criminal justice system. The staff of the National Headquarters of POMC will assist any survivor and if possible, link that survivor with others in the same vicinity who have survived their loved one's murder. They can help parents or immediate family members form a chapter of POMC in their community if they are interested, which can help turn a tragedy into something positive, so family members can be comforted by the idea that their loved one did not die in vain.
According to their website, POMC also provides training to professionals in such fields as law enforcement, mental health, social work, community services, law, criminal justice, medicine, education, religion, the media and mortuary science who are interested in learning more about survivors of homicide victims and the aftermath of murder. Over the years perhaps no other organization has compiled more intimate knowledge about families of child murder victims. (Parents of Murdered Children, Inc., 2016)
The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA)
One of the forgotten issues of this particular crisis is the financial impact it can have on a family. There are several factors contributing to the loss of money by the murdered child’s family, including lost time at work from taking days off to attend to issues related to the murder (funeral, assistance with the investigation, court dates for the assailant, parole hearings, etc.), travel expenses, memorial expenses (embalming, casket, flowers, etc.), and many others. Parents may perform poorly at work and eventually have to quit or get fired. Some accrue mental health expenses and even physical medical expenses resulting from issues exacerbated by stress.
This is why in 1984 Congress acted to assist the families of crimes in their hour of need. It championed legislation aimed at helping the victims of crime through means other than punishment of the criminal known as the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA for short). It established the Crime Victim's Fund, a scheme to compensate victims of crime. As of 2013 the fund has exceeded 8 billion dollars, paid for by fines and fees paid by convicted federal offenders as well as gifts, donations, and bequests by private parties. (U.S. Government, 1984)
Challenges for Victim Advocates
One of the main challenges in assisting (or “advocating for”) the parents and families of murdered children is that most of us simply have no idea how to help them. It is a situation that is so frightening and traumatizing that it is difficult for us to wrap our heads around it. But such families desperately need our help to cope with their personal nightmare. The best way to meet the challenge of helping them is to help ourselves prepare by becoming informed. Victims of capital crime can have layers of needs that require a variety of skill-based competencies for Victim Advocates. Many states have victim assistance academies to provide basic training. Professionalization of the field has also resulted in academic degrees as well as the National Advocate Credentialing Program. (NOVA, 2016)
Perhaps the most useful information I was able to find on the subject was this list of how to help such families initially compiled by the National Organization for Victim Assistance:
- Allow survivors to grieve in whatever way they wish and for as long as they wish.
- Allow survivors to cry freely. It is a healthy expression of grief and releases tension.
- Allow survivors to talk about the victim, his or her life, and the murder.
- Allow them to criticize the victim and to talk about the good times and the bad times. Allow them to keep the victim in the family.
- Allow survivors to get angry at you, the victim, the criminal, the criminal justice system, or simply at the unfairness of life. Anger needs expression and sharing.
- Remember the survivors and the victim at holiday time, the anniversary date of the murder, and birthdays. Let the survivors know you remember, too.
- Allow the survivors some time out occasionally from day-to-day pressures. Offer help with the children, a day off work, a day out of the house, help with groceries, or whatever you can do to give them a break.
- Reassure the survivors that the murder was not their fault or the victim's fault.
- Tell survivors that you are sorry the murder happened and that it is horrible that someone killed their loved one.
- Support survivors in their effort to reconstruct a life, even (or especially) if it means a major change in the lifestyle, or work, or place of residence.
- Let survivors know that you will remain their friend and that they mean a great deal to you.
There are many additional challenges to consider as well. Among them, helping families deal with media coverage of the murder, disposing of personal belongings of the victim, and informing them on criminal justice investigation, prosecution, and trial procedures.
Personally, I have helped Daniel and Scot’s families by circulating a petition to help keep their sons’ killer behind bars, and I plan on continuing to do so every time he comes up for parole. I have also reached out to them on social media, offering memories of their children that I collected from their friends and playmates; also any dirt I could dig up on Shawn in case he could be found to be in violation of any prison rules which could hurt his chances of parole. And finally, I have prayed – both with them and with mutual friends, as well as in private. The murders sent a shockwave through our whole community, and it helps them to know they are not alone in their grief, their longing for justice, or their trauma. The importance of prayer (or kind words from the non-religious) cannot be understated. The spiritual component of dealing with trauma is often overlooked but can be just as helpful to families as conventional advocacy, if not even more so. May God grant these families peace till they may be reunited with their children in heaven.
Lebron v. Florida, No. 11–15258. (United States Court of Appeals,Eleventh Circuit. February 26th, 2013).
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, October 26). Child Mortality, 2014. Mortality Rates and Causes. United States: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/child-health.htm.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. (1980-2002). Supplementary Homicide Reports. United States: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED495786.pdf.
Hieatt, K. (2012, July 8). Families face parole hearing ordeal in Va. Beach case. Thr Virginia Pilot. Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA: http://pilotonline.com/news/local/cr...45d48a795.html.
NOVA. (2016). National Organization for Victim Assistance. USA: https://www.trynova.org/.
Parents of Murdered Children, Inc. (2016, October 16). Survivors of Homicide Victims. pomc.com. USA: http://www.pomc.com/survivors.html.
U.S. Government. (1984). United States Federal Legislation. Victims of Crime Act of 1984 As Amended: A Report to the President & the Congress. Washington, D.C., USA: http://ojp.gov/ovc/about/index.html.
Innocence is underrated.
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Re: Shawn Paul Novak, 16; Double Child Murderer
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Re: Shawn Paul Novak, 16; Double Child Murderer
Well written article! Dealing with children and teens its tough to grasp their mental capacity. We all have impulses but most of us can control them.
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