Friday, October 22, 2010

Adoptive Parents Ask: What Could They Do?

Christopher Sutton’s mother gave him up so that he could have a better life; instead he will spend his life in a Florida penitentiary for the August 22, 2004 murder of his adoptive mother and attempted murder of his adoptive father.

Here’s the facts as presented on Dateline  and South Florida News. John and Susan Sutton brought Christopher home two days after his birth on April 13, 1979. Seven years later, the Suttons adopted a daughter, Melissa.

John Sutton was a successful trial lawyer. The family lived in an affluent neighborhood near Miami; the children did not lack for love or material comforts. Christopher, however, was trouble from an early age. He got into fights even as early as preschool and committed acts of vandalism. As a teenager, he dealt drugs. His parents sent him to boarding schools where he was expelled for bad behavior.

When Christopher was 16, his parents hired thugs to take him to Paradise Cove in Western Samoa, a boot camp program specializing in “behavior modification” operated by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP). John Sutton said he investigated the program which cost $25,000 a year, “rather thoroughly.”

Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for SelfWWASP’s programs were punitive and brutal; Paradise Cove was closed in 1998.  When Christopher turned 18, he was entitled to be released from Paradise Cove. However John Sutton obtained a court order--something he knew how to do because he was an attorney--to keep Christopher in Samoa until he completed the program. Christopher returned to Florida on his 19th birthday.

Christopher’s behavior improved after his return. His parents bought him a $300,000 condominium and helped him start a business. The business failed and Christopher went back to dealing drugs.

According to prosecutors, Christopher hired one of his drug customers, Garrett Kopp, to kill his parents. Kopp admitted shooting them and testified against Christopher. Prosecutors argued that Christopher’s motive was revenge against his parents for sending him to Samoa and an expectation of inheriting a large sum of money. Christopher denied the charges, claiming Kopp shot his parents on his own when he entered the house looking for drugs. The jury found Christopher guilty on July 21, 2010. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

What else could we do?" John Sutton, who was blinded in the murder attempt, asked Dateline reporter Keith Morrison? "Those other people that went to Samoa, they didn't kill people."


CullyRay said...

I hope there's an interview with Chris as to what his childhood - at home and at school - was like. Did he feel abandoned, rejected?

Lori said...

Interesting. So, the child was adopted, acted out and was angry and upset and no one seemed to see the connection? Very interesting, I will be looking forward to the sequel on this one.

joy said...

What a sad, sad story. I have never wanted to kill my adoptive parents. Other people for sure, but not my adoptive parents.

I struggled with suicidal ideation for years in my twenties though, I guess that is just the otherside of the coin. On that topic, I can without a doubt my adoption was the driving force behind that. I have no clue what the opposite, forcing your anger on to others in that way would feel like. Scary stuff.

Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

It is a very sad story. What could his parents do differently is a good question. Not knowing all of the facts, I will say the one thing that seems clear is that whatever “help” his parents were willing to provide him they wanted it done far away from them, Rejection on top of rejection.

Yeah, other kids went through that program and didn’t kill people, so obviously the parents MUST have made the right choice. What kind of logic was that?

Robin said...

Wait a minute. How could this boy have problems with being adopted? He was placed when he was only 2 days old. That should be the same as being raised by his first parents. NOT!

Lori said...

@Sunday, actually, since I grew up in foster care in an era when those "camps" were a big thing, I can tell you that it wasn't just the parents in the end. However, if you have problems with a child, sending them away and isolating them from their families does not make the situation better.

You blend in the surrender rejection of the natural parent, no matter the reason, and you have a beautiful blend of damaged child from adoption. Further meld in more damage from the second adoption (the younger sister) and subsequent isolation from the adoptive family, and yet again, the brutality that is inherent in those camps...

Psychopath cocktail - yummy, just what the kid needed and just want the world needed....

It amazes me how much they left out of that mess. And worse, how much they blame on the natural parents and not the rejection of the supposed "forever" family.

joy said...

OH I read a lot more about this WWSP, really sad. I no longer can believe the adoptive father's assertion that he researched it thoroughly. I saw one claim that the adoptive father became the atty for the "program"

How much the initial kidnapping and helplessness must resemble the experience of relinquishment. I would love to know what percentage of those kids are adopted.

I also thought it was curious that the good adoptee of the family made a point of adoption being a non-issue for her, I wonder where that came from?

Not that any of that excuses murder.

Robin said...

Joy, I did not realize there was a good adoptee and a bad adoptee in this situation. I remember from Nancy Verrier's work that this is a very common scenario when there are two adopted children in a family.

Anonymous said...

"Christopher Sutton’s mother gave him up so that he could have a better life."
Does anybody know anything about his original family and why he was made available for adoption?

Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

@ Lori, me too. I agree with you. My point was that bad “therapy” doesn’t or rather shouldn’t have to lead to murder to be found BAD. Apparently I need to work on how my sarcasm comes off in type. ; )

DENISE said...

This sounds so much like my son's story, although he didn't kill anyone and isn't in prison right now. Of course I only got his side, never spoke to his a-parents. He admits he had problems from the get-go, ended up in a mental institution for evaluation at 13 (he doesn't know his diagnosis, in fact insists he was declared healthy), then sent to group homes, in other words his parents washed their hands of him. He only finished 8th grade, spent much of his teen years on the street, which is where he got into dealing drugs and other crimes (and did spend some time in jail).

This story is very sad. Personally, I feel that adoption is to blame. No matter how the a-parents handle it, it's still a loss, a trauma. Some adoptees fare better than others. Because of the a-parents? Because of how they're wired to deal with the loss?

I don't know. I don't like what the parents in this story did, sending the boy away, making him stay. But could the outcome still have been the same? We'll never know.

Anonymous said...

I am a birth mother as well as a former adoptee and this thread breaks my heart. This situation could have happened to any family - adoption or not. I believe without a doubt that the parents were uneducated on how to facilitate healing in their sons loss but then again weren't most adoptive parents during this time frame? Aren't many still uneducated today? There are families who have natural born children who act out and get "sent away" and deal with all the same kind of struggles. They weren't adopted so who's to blame there? It is too easy to cop out and say that it is all the aparents fault but I'm sorry people don't just kill people because they had bad parents. If you are ill enough to take another person's life there are clinical issues at play. To some extent there is nothing these parents could have done besides seek treatment. They may have gone about it the wrong way (boot camp vs psychiatrist) but they tried given the worldview that they had in front of them. Any of us put in their shoes could have done the same thing. A woman lost her life here, does that mean nothing? I guess it is her fault her son killed her because she was such a bad mother.

If my son were to grow up and kill his adoptive parents I would first and foremost be devastated and second I would in no way blame his parents. Every parent has their flaws and we are all just as screwed up as the next but I don't think bad parenting (aside from flat out abuse/manipulation/emotionally disturbed parenting) can cause someone to become a psychopathic killer. I'm sorry but give these people some credit. This man lost his wife! It is a sad awful situation all around and talking about these people like they were some kind of monsters because they sent they're 16 year old son to boot camp is highly disrespectful and rather ignorant.

Jane Edwards said...


Read the post which follows this one (October 23, 2010). You'll see that we say clearly that Chris' adoptive parents were not to blame for the tragedy. They did not know (and most adoptive parents then did not know and many today do not know) that adoption can trigger many problems. Adopted adolescents have a higher rate of delinquency and drug abuse and suicide. Obviously, there are causative other factors besides adoption when problems arise.

Adoption can trigger problems because adoptees may not fit in their adoptive families and the original abandonment may cause low self esteem and fear of rejection. In Chris' cases, for example, he did not have the academic skills his adoptive father expected of his son.

We did not fault the Suttons although they did the worst possible thing in sending him to a brutal camp far from home. We hope that adoptive parents can learn from the work of David Kirschner and other researchers.

Anonymous said...

One thing that I have not seen mentioned or considered I found out about this case from watching an hour long program on TV. They sent him to the boarding school in Samoa only after discovering that he had a written plan to murder his parents for the inheritance! They immediately got a restraining order against him and sent him away a couple weeks after that. I really feel this boy was a sociopath from a young age, and d I do not believe that as of now there are any treatments (medical or psychological) that would have made him a decent human being. People seem to be criticizing the parents here but what can you do if your own child wants to kill you. Let alone doing it solely for money. The family let him back into their lives after he got back from Samoa and showed a lot of trust him, and took care of him financially. Nothing they could have done would have ever been enough for this sick and twisted and young man.

Lorraine Dusky said...


Unknown said...

Because he was discarded. Twice. She wasn't. I totally relate to him. I hate my adoptive parents. And thankfully for them, I had no mental illness. Because since I was 7, I dreamt of killing them. Never tried. Instead, I moved far as soon as I was of age. My sister is the perfect one. The one they never sent away like trash. She can keep them and their money.

lizz said...

dear anonymous..i am an adoptive mother and it hurt me to read that you hate your adoptive parents and have cut them out of your life. Is there something they did to make you feel this way? i feel like my adoptive son doesn't like me. What can you tell me if anything, to help me understand what my adoptive son needs from me that i am not giving him. thank you

Anonymous said...

any advice for an adoptive mother who's son doesn't like her. what can i do to turn this around? he is 16.

virtuous woman said...

I have watched this feature on investigation discovery and read up online. Christopher was taken to a number of psychiatrists and doctors. Dropping him in a boarding school in Samoa was a last resort. He had threatened his mum and sister with a gun, and written a letter saying he was going to kill his parents for money at 16. I really believe the parents were misinformed and thought they were helping him straighten out. He had been diagnosed a sociopath even before he was sent to samoa. I'm sorry but being adopted at 2days old is not an excuse for what he did. He wasn't even living with them anymore! Why cause so much pain and hurt? What happened to cutting them off and moving on? He and his fiancee were working for them and were at a celebratory dinner at their home that night knowing what they had planned. It is apalling to say the least.

BeenAround B4 said...

All of the story is so very sad.
What i found interesting is that from my own perspective, I ALWAYS wished that i had been an adopted child; i.e. truly wanted. It seems like these parents hearts were in the right place and the daughter attests to this.

Heather Detroit said...

His dad was a horrible ambulance chaser. Makes me sick- Christopher was sent to prison island at the time in his life undoubtedly the pain of it started to creep up. Breaks my heart.

Christmas said...

"He had threatened his mum and sister with a gun, and written a letter saying he was going to kill his parents for money at 16. I really believe the parents were misinformed and thought they were helping him straighten out. He had been diagnosed a sociopath even before he was sent to samoa." ALL the above information came from his father after the shooting. No evidence -- not the letter nor a statement from whomever supposedly diagnosed him as a sociopath -- was ever offered as evidence. Christopher said he never lived up to his dad's expectations, that whatever he did, whatever grades he got were never good enough. If adopted at age 2 days, why was he told at a young age that he was adopted? And, more importantly, HOW was he told? In a fit of rage from his father when he'd disappointed his father?

His father is a high profile attorney in the South Florida area and has a lot of influence in the political and legal circles. That's obvious just from the fact that he could get a judge to sign an Order to keep Christopher in Samoa even after he'd turned 18. Christopher wasn't told about having to stay another year until his 18th birthday, the day he thought he was going home!

Christopher's father was the attorney for the "camp" in Samoa and fought against having it shut down, even after many other boys and their parents brought lawsuits against the camp for the maltreatment of the boys there.

The guy who was the shooter was Christopher' accuser. Christopher was convicted on solely circumstantial evidence: The words of an already convicted killer who is serving less time than Christopher!!!!!

He, in fact, got VERY good grades all through school but they were never good enough for his father.

His father went into the courtroom as if he needed someone to help him, going with the "I've been blinded." He WAS blind in ONE eye and customarily wore a patch over that eye, except when he went into Court for Christopher's trial, knowing the TV cameras would be there. He was continuing to practice law. Furthermore, out of the courtroom, he didn't need anyone to help him even cross the street! He'd been told many, many months before the trial that he could have surgery to regain his sight. BUT he choose to wait until AFTER the trial to have the surgery. It wouldn't have gleaned him as much sympathy if he could see then, now would it?

I'd guess there is soooo much more to this bad treatment by his father that we may never know. However, maybe one day it all will come out.

Anonymous said...

I just saw a 48 hours episode on this, and what had the biggest impact on me was the difference in the response of Chris's father and Garett Kopp's father. Chris's father said he doesn't love him anymore, and Garett's father was sobbing for his son, even though he knew he was a murderer. Such an incredible difference, so sad!

Emotionally abused by foster children said...

There is no good reason for murder. Period.

Christopher was the prototypical spoiled "cute" kid. He reminds me, unfortunately, of my ex-fiance's fostered/adopted son.

Yes, he was shaken as a child.

Yes, he has numerous tragic circumstances -- as do many, many human beings, to one degree or another.

But there seems to be some kind of attachment to cruelty present in some -- regardless of being fostered and/or adopted.

In this child's case, he killed a bird to watch it die. He attacks his adoptive father, throws rocks at him, and woe is my ex-fiance if he doesn't cater to this child's every whim.

I worry about my ex-fiance.

I worry about him, because I fear (and I know he does as well) that one or both of his fostered/and adopted children could possibly harm him for numerous reasons (including an inheritance).

I entered into my relationship with my ex-fiance with a full and loving willingness to embrace these children as my own.

I cooked for them, dried their tears, sat through at times numerous, difficult hours of homework.......

And, given the emotional (and physical - by the boy) abuse that I was.subjected to (by both of them), as well as the abuse heaped upon my ex-fiance (that I witnessed firsthand), I lost any desire to have children in this lifetime -- adoptive or otherwise.

And so, there are always two sides to the parent-children stories.

As I recall from my own childhood, a child can be rather cruel as well. And, as Shakespeare stated, "Good wombs have oft borne bad fruit."

Neither the biological nor the adoptive parents are necessarily to blame.

Anonymous said...

Actually a number of kids from the same Samoan camp Christopher went to did commit murder.

Experienced said...

Nature vs nurture? Who were the biological aren't sand what is their character? Sometimes brains are hard wired from birth and sociopathic or psychopathic behaviour is their norm. Nurture can only do so much if nature is stronger.

DSouth said...

John Sutton is a wonderful man. His son was a spoiled entitled brat and came up with this scheme on his own. It has nothing to do with his being adopted. He's a criminal, nothing more nothing less.