Here's how police described Judith Scruggs' house. "There was barely room to move around her home because of the clothes, boxes, papers and other debris that littered the floor. The kitchen was full of dirty dishes and spills and stains. The bathroom floor and the bathtub were covered with clothes, and the toilet, sink and tub were soiled." One officer suggested the foul odor in the house was like "sticking your head in a hamper full of dirty clothes and whiffing garbage at the same time." In short, the house was no place to be raising a 12-year-old son.
As a result of the horrible living conditions, her 12-year-old son often went to school with bad body odor and bad breath. That led to other students calling him names and bullying him. And that, in turn, led him to hang himself in his closet after months of being picked on in school.
Police charged Judith Scruggs with risking an injury to a minor because of the filthy living conditions. And this week a jury agreed and convicted her. It is thought this case was a first where a parent was charged in the suicide death of a child where the living conditions were a factor in the death. By any definition, it was an odd and unusual case.
Judith Scruggs was a single mother, according to her lawyer, who worked two part-time jobs to make ends meet. So the issue surrounding the living conditions was not financial but simply a lack of parental concern. That was enough to convince the jury.
This case, of course, is on the extreme end of the spectrum. But in millions of other homes, including many in our community, the living conditions are not too different. As part of the Community Christmas Campaign, I have visited some of these homes if only briefly. I will not draw a parallel and say these living conditions may indeed lead to a suicide. But I do believe these types of living conditions will lead to poor school performance, a total lack of pride, embarrassment and even ridicule such as the incident described above.
Society does not know what goes on behind the walls of the homes in this nation. We can speculate. But the fact is that we cannot go into every home to inspect living conditions in an attempt to improve the life of those less fortunate.
Who knows what circumstances produced the living conditions that led to the death of Daniel Scruggs? But in the end, as is so often the case, it boils down to personal responsibility. And on that issue, society still has more questions than answers. And perhaps, we always will.