Bloggers and online chat forums were quick to paint Terri Moulton Horman not only the main suspect but, in many instances, the only suspect in the case of missing Kyron Horman. Mainstream media, although not as blunt with accusations or obviously slanted allegations, showed a general shift toward coverage of the stepmother as the story grew older, although most depicted her as the last person to have seen her 7-year-old stepson. But as more details began to filter in, the mainstream also began focusing on Kyron Horman’s stepmother.
But why? Why were so many so quick to point the finger of blame at Terri Moulton Horman? Instinct can get one far but in the legal system, logic, ethics, clinical science and chain of evidence are supposed to hold sway. Good detectives are said to often work on “hunches” instead of cold, hard facts to get to heart of a case. But could it be that those hunches were initiated by a swiftly moving and extrapolative brain? Or, as in the Kyron Horman case, could it be that Terri Moulton Horman just might be innocent but found guilty in the court of public opinion due to the social predisposition to hold stepmothers in a predominantly suspicious light?
Some call it the “Wicked Stepmother Syndrome.” This is a general stereotyping of the stepmother as evil and perpetuated by the neverending stream of tales, born of some truth and some perceived victimhood, that depict the stepmother as a harsh and unwanted substitute for the maternal parent figure. Additionally, the wicked stepmother has become a common antagonist figure in literature over the centuries, most famously via the tale of Cinderella.
At the outset, when all that was known about the Kyron Horman case was that he disappeared sometime around 9 a.m. during a Skyline Elementary School science fair and that Terri Moulton Horman was the last person known to have seen the second-grader, bloggers at MomLogic.com and JusticeQuest.net noted that Terri Moulton Horman did not post a picture of her missing stepson for six days on Facebook but managed to update her account with trivial statements. The fact that the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office explained some of the Horman’s seemingly strange behavior did not quiet the accusations being leveled on the internet.
Not one of the four parents in the situation uttered a word in support or made a public statement until the 7-year-old had been missing for five days and then it was a written statement. The four made an appearance and the two males, Kyron’s father and stepfather, spoke but both women remained silent. Still, seven days after the second-grader disappeared, with the family remaining relatively quiet in a situation that normally demands that a family present itself to the public (and to potential abductors) in order to establish a connection (sympathy, empathy, guilt, etc.), that same public was growing increasingly suspicious and hostile toward Kyron Horman’s stepmother. This despite Multnomah County authorities’ announcements that they still had no persons of interest or suspects.
When Multnomah County authorities passed out fliers with Terri Moulton Horman’s likeness on them asking those who had attended the school science fair (where Kyron was last seen) if they had seen Horman or Kyron at school on the day the boy disappeared, the circumstantial implication sent speculation to new heights.
Even before the allegations of an as-yet-to-be-named landscaper alleged that Terri Moulton Horman hired him to kill Kaine Horman, Kyron’s father, the stepmother was found guilty in the court of public opinion. Still, the landscaper’s accusations can be defended with a her-word-against-his argument.
And thus far, although every shred of evidence that has made its way to the public seems to point to Terri Moulton Horman as a possible suspect, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has refused to name even a person of interest. Although many wonder why, it can be summed up in one word: circumstantial.
Everything that the public knows about this case is circumstantial. There has been nothing thus far that directly implicates Terri Moulton Horman in anything untoward in this case. Other than taking her stepson to school — and that by her own admission — there is no other reason to believe that the stepmother saw the child again on June 4.
Although there is little doubt that the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has far more data, evidence, and leading clues than has been presented to the public, apparently there hasn’t been enough for prosecutors to order an arrest.
But that could change in a matter of hours.
So, given that all the shared evidence (and not the speculation and/or reports based on informed sources) has been circumstantial and not condemning or damning, Terri Moulton Horman remains free. Given that the first line of legal defense is that each person is innocent until proven guilty, and given that nothing by circumstantial evidence is all that has been gathered, how is it that Kyron Horman’s stepmother is seen as guilty by so many?
Inherent social prejudice is endemic to all societies. The dislike, distrust, or even hatred of the stepmother figure is well ingrained in American society. It is woven into the fabric of our relationships not only through actual and factual incidents and occurrences, but it is also part of our entertainment, our literature, and even our slang. For example, in our slang, where there is a wicked stepmother, there is the diametrical opposite of the redheaded stepchild being scolded or beaten. In our literature, Cinderella is a classic tale of the oppressed and suppressed stepchild of a wicked stepmother. And our crime dramas entertain us with stepmothers who commit crimes against their stepchildren or the dramas are written to capitalize on the stereotype to misdirect the audience until a twist at the end reveals the true culprit.
Does this mean that Terri Moulton Horman is a victim in this case? It well could, especially if it is later proven that someone actually abducted Kyron Horman from his school. It could if Kyron simply wandered off and has met with a terrible accident.
In the end, it must be remembered that Terri Moulton Horman, regardless of our instincts, our suppositions, our extrapolations, our hunches, and our best intuitive guesswork, is still innocent until proven guilty. No amount of circumstantial evidence can alter that, except perhaps in the eyes of an empaneled jury.
And then there is this: Terri Moulton Horman may truly be innocent of any wrongdoing.