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Laura Jordan, mom of 8-year-old Maddy Middleton, hugs a friend at her daughter’s memorial. She has said she doesn’t blame the mother of 15-year-old alleged killer Adrian Jerry Gonzalez. (Photo: Connor Radnovich/San Francisco Chronicle /Polaris)
It’s a horrific story for anyone to ponder, but especially, perhaps, for a parent: that of 8-year-old Madyson “Maddy” Jordan Middleton, whose lifeless body was discovered by police in a dumpster after she’d been missing for hours last week. Her tight-knit Santa Cruz, Calif., community had pulled together to find out what happened to her, and was blown apart when the girl’s 15-year-old neighbor and friend Adrian Jerry Gonzalez was arrested Thursday for her rape and brutal murder.
On that day, life — for the mothers of both children — was torn apart. But the two may now find unlikely solace in each other, as Maddy’s mom, Laura Jordan, has made it clear that she does not blame the killer’s mother, Reggie Factor, for her son’s actions.
“I just love her, and we both lost our children that day. That’s the tragic truth,” Jordan told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I don’t fault her.”
The two families live in the same unique low-income artists’ housing complex, the Tannery Arts Center, and the families consider themselves friends — which is why, police explain, Maddy trusted Gonzalez when he allegedly lured her upstairs to his apartment last week.
Madyson “Maddy” Jordan Middleton. (Photo: AP Images)
Jordan explained to the newspaper that she’d seen Factor crying inconsolably about her “terrible” son at Maddy’s memorial last week. But Jordan hugged her and told her, “I love you, I don’t blame you. It’s not your fault.” She’s even considering a fundraiser in the name of her daughter’s murderer — who reportedly suffered from mental health issues — to help other young people with similar problems find treatment.
Jordan’s kind reaction has left many stunned. “Jordan is a better woman than I am. I don’t think I’d have it in me to be so loving towards the mother of the monster who brutalized and murdered my baby,” wrote one commenter on the Chronicle story. Another said, “It is amazing that Jordan opens her arms to the mother of her daughter’s murderer, that she bears her no ill will. I’m not sure I’d have that in me so soon after as I can barely imagine the swell of emotions, hate, disbelief that must consume a parent when a child is taken so horribly.”
One more wrote: “Wow, what a gift she gave to Factor. What a great person. In her darkest moment, her heart is still big enough to comfort others.”
It was an incredibly generous gesture, to be sure, according to adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg. “This is highly unusual,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “Because if you raise a 15-year-old who rapes and kills a girl, the parent does bear some responsibility. I don’t believe in the whole ‘snapping’ thing. There must have been signs.” And there were plenty, according to local news reports, which paint Gonzalez as a depressed, at times vocally suicidal teen whose upbringing was challenged by his parents’ divorce, frequent lack of money and housing, and abuse.
Adrian Jerry Gonzalez, 15, at his arraignment. (Photo: AP Images)
Still, Greenberg adds, “they both did lose their child that day, and I don’t fault her.” But she would be interested to see if Jordan feels differently toward Factor in the coming days and months. “You have to go through stages of grieving, and she’s putting closure on this so quickly, probably because she’s devastated and still in shock. Good if it works for her, though.”
Psychologist Fred Luskin, author of Forgive for Good and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, tells Yahoo Parenting that Jordan’s sentiments toward Gonzalez’s mother don’t surprise him. “She just experienced a severe personal trauma,” he says. “She’s looking for support and understanding, and who else could understand so well but somebody whose life is life turned upside down [by the same tragedy]? She found a peer suffering the same intensity of devastation, who can relate to that degree of rawness.”
Flowers at a makeshift memorial for Maddy. (Photo: AP Images)
Luskin notes that not everyone in Jordan’s position, of course, would see it the same way, explaining that some people tend to act more “tribally,” with a sort of “us against them” familial loyalty. But the teenage Gonzalez, he says, “doesn’t have to reflect on the parent at all. So to lump her in with the child is a leap against faith, in a way.” Still, it’s what many in our society would do, Luskin says, as we live in a “reasonably hostile sort of culture, and we tend to do that tribal extension. But it’s not necessary and it’s not universal,” he notes, as Jordan proves. “This woman is making the world a tiny bit better by not making the other mother’s pain worse.”
Grief expert David Kessler of Grief.com, who co-authored Grief and Grieving with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, agrees that Jordan’s sentiments are unusual. “I wish it would happen more,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “Parents sometimes have an ability to realize we’re not responsible for everything [in our children]. This mom was able to find compassion in the midst of her grief, which is an amazing ability.” He, like Greenberg, says he would not be surprised if Jordan’s anger eventually flares, because forgiveness, like grief, is a process.
Still, Kessler says, “if you can connect human to human as she did, mother to mother, that’s a way to get to forgiveness.” And that’s vital with grief, which can often make a person feel like an island. “But she’ll be forever connected to this other mother,” he says, “and that can be a surprising comfort.”