Current events often impact the way we parent our children and raise our families. In urban America, for example, some parents talk to their children about racial profiling and police shootings.
Here in rural Hampton County and the Lowcountry, we have to talk to our children about the Murdaugh crime saga.
Almost every family in the Hampton County area is connected in some way to this ongoing case. People here either know, or are related to, this storied family of Southern attorneys and prosecutors, or have some relationship to Richard “Alex” Murdaugh’s alleged victims, or the people who have lost their lives under other tragic circumstances connected in some way to the Murdaugh name.
In a county of just over 18,500 people, almost everyone is a neighbor, friend, relative or classmate.
Like families everywhere, we discuss the latest headlines at the dinner table. Parents here talk of homicide and fraud, and offer their theories on who did what, and who will be brought to justice. Our children return from school to report that classmates were talking about the latest Murdaugh allegations and then ask us questions.
While tragic and unfortunate, these events and conversations are teaching moments that we can use to share guidance with our children. There are lessons here for all of us, lessons about trust, dishonesty, deception – a real life parable to reinforce one of the basic tenants of any religion, “Thou shalt not steal.”
But there are other lessons to be learned from the tragic events that dot the timeline of the Murdaugh cases. The fatal February 2019 boat crash, which involved a boat full of Hampton County-area teens and left one of our own dead, is a particularly powerful example.
The dangers of underage drinking
Of all the tragic events surrounding Alex Murdaugh, the death of Mallory Beach in the 2019 Beaufort County boat crash involving his son probably impacted local people most of all.
The manner in which Beach died – missing in the dark, frigid coastal waters for a week – brought both pain and anger to locals who knew these teens and their families. Parents here lay awake at night during that nightmarish week, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, their hearts and prayers extended to Beach’s mother and father, who were experiencing a pain that few can imagine.
If there is ever a clear reminder that underage drinking can be dangerous, and operating vehicles of any sort while drinking can be fatal, those 2019 headlines are it.
James Holley, of the New Life Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse that serves Hampton, Jasper and Allendale counties, says that national surveys conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicate there are a lot of myths among young people about alcohol.
One common myth, Holley said, is that alcohol “isn’t as harmful as other drugs.”
The truth, Holley said, is that alcohol increases your risk for many deadly diseases, such as cancer. Drinking too much or too quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can kill. People who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to abuse or become dependent on alcohol than those who begin after age 21. Kids who drink are more likely to get poor grades in school and are at higher risk for being a crime victim.
Another myth: “Everyone else is drinking every weekend, so I need to drink to fit in.”
SAMHSA research shows that more than 70% of youth aged 12 to 20 haven’t had a drink in the past month.
“If kids want to fit in, they should stay sober,” Holley said. “Most young people don’t drink.”
But for those who do, there can be deadly consequences. And if parents or children need a reminder that DUI and BUI are illegal and carry harsh penalties, take a look at the multitude of lawsuits that have emerged from one accident, and the millions of dollars that will likely be spent to address one night of wrongdoing.
Physical and emotional abuse toward women
Almost every moment leading up to, during and after that fatal boat crash has been analyzed and dissected by investigators, attorneys, the media and even dedicated true crime followers.
Here in Hampton County and the Lowcountry, those details carried an emotional punch. Just as the public was shocked and saddened to learn that Beach was missing for a week, they were shocked and angered by other details as well.
Angry mothers paused their televisions after hearing the survivors allege that Paul Murdaugh was verbally and physically abusive to his girlfriend during an alcohol-fueled argument prior to the crash.
While just a small incident in the big picture of this fatal crash, it was a powerful and painful moment that resonated with many.
Mothers talked to their young women. Parents talked to their young men. If there was ever a ripped-from-the-headlines teachable moment on the importance of treating young women properly, that was it.
Just as it did not escape the notice of parents, it also captured the attention of professionals like Erin G. Hall, chief development officer for Hopeful Horizons, which aids domestic violence victims and offers programs to address and prevent violence against women.
“Abuse and violence can have a lifelong impact on victims and their families, and we strive for a community without abuse,” Hall said. “Hopeful Horizons is here 24/7 to help victims heal – please call our support line at 843-770-1070. Therapy and other resources are no cost to victims.”
The State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) keeps annual statistics on crime in the Palmetto State, including “Intimate Violence,” which is defined as any violent act between intimate parties: spouses, boyfriend and girlfriend, co-inhabitants or co-parents. According to SLED’s 2020 Crime In South Carolina report, in that year alone there were 48 confirmed cases of «Intimate Murder», 5,045 cases of «Intimate Aggravated Assault» and 24,098 cases of «Intimate Simple Assaults.»
Hope Haven and Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse recently merged to form Hopeful Horizons, whose mission is to change the cultural norms associated with violence against women and girls and provide prevention and educational services to middle school, high school and college students in Beaufort and surrounding counties.
Hopeful Horizons offers a variety of programs, including a Men of Strength Club (MOST), which is an educational and prevention program to mobilize young men in an effort to prevent sexual and dating violence, as well as a Women Inspiring Strength and Empowerment Club (WISE) to teach young women about “healthy femininity and redefine what it means to be a strong woman.”
Resources that can help
For more information on Hopeful Horizons, call their 24-Hour Support Line at 843-770-1070 or go to their website at https://www.hopefulhorizons.org/prevention-outreach
Visit the New Life Center at newlifecenteradc.org/
SAMHSA has a helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357); or go to samhsa.gov or https://newlifecenteradc.org/
Additional links: stopalcoholabuse.gov and toosmarttostart.samhsa.gov are resources for further information on underage drinking prevention.
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: What Hampton County can learn from Murdaugh family tragedies