It's been three months since Vinnie and Melissa Murphy awoke to their children's screams amid a brutal attack for which their older brother stands accused, but it's evident from the pain lingering in their faces and voices that time has delivered little clarity or healing.
It's not uncommon for the Murphys to toggle between anger, confusion, grief and unconditional love within the same unbroken sentence, a stream of consciousness reflective of the internal struggle they live day by day. On Oct. 17, 2017, they lost their two youngest children Noah, 7, and Sophia, 5, in a senseless killing in Colorado Springs still too tragic to comprehend. They also effectively lost a third child, oldest son Malik Murphy, who faces two counts of first-degree murder.
"We're still in a state of shock," Melissa said Thursday in an interview at the family's new home. "To do something like this is pretty horrendous, so we're still coming to terms with it privately ourselves, still walking with Christ, understanding how this happened and then what our relationship looks like with each other, with our two children we have at home, and with Malik, if there is to be one with Malik.
"What does that look like? We don't know."
The parents have survived the past three months much the way they survived the first 24 hours: by leaning on family, friends, faith and their church. They're held together by the encouragement and support - whether in the form of family meals, gifts or finances - which they say people have gone out of their way to provide.
More than $33,000 raised through a YouCaring account and through Mountain Springs Church not only defrayed the cost of burying their two children, but also allowed the Murphys to move to a new home and grieve without worrying about rushing back to work - Melissa is a stay-at-home mom and Vinnie is seeking a job in the hospitality industry. Their faith has been their rock through it all, bolstered by their church, which has been committed to "just loving on them" and "walking the story with them," according to Mountain Springs Senior Pastor Daniel Rolfe.
But each day, they come back to the same question: Can they forgive their son?
"We are on that path," Vinnie said. "It's definitely not a switch you can turn on. ... It's a very interesting, winding road when somebody you love has committed such an act."
Anger and forgiveness
It took nearly two months before the Murphys could face Malik, anger still swelling inside them. But they "needed to be able to get that image out of our minds of what Malik was that night," Melissa said. They spoke to him on a computer screen in the El Paso County jail, where he's being held without bond and in segregation - a disciplinary or administrative lockdown confining inmates to their cell for 23 hours a day. He's next scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 9.
Initially, Malik "appeared humbled," hanging his head while Melissa "said the things I had to say to him." The actions mirrored his behavior in October, when he told a 9News reporter he was "extremely" sorry for his actions. But when his father spoke, Malik got angry and hung up, ending the visit just four minutes in, Melissa said.
How do you forgive that?
Pulling strength from her faith, Melissa likens their struggle to the biblical story of the cross. She knows the Scripture by heart; Jesus, with nails driven into his hands and feet and hanging dying on the cross, forgives the sins of the world and cries out, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."
"It's like relearning from Christ all over again what forgiveness really means. ... Christ is just asking us to walk it," Melissa said of her family's own story of the cross. "So we're really learning what it means to say, 'Father, forgive Malik, he knows not what he does. We forgive Malik.'"
They can't say they're there yet.
"Some moments in the day we're so angry at Malik, so angry at what he has done, that it's a good thing that we're not left in a room alone with him and he is in jail, because we are so angry. And then there's other moments and days where I just grieve the loss of my son. I love Malik, I don't hate him," Melissa said, her face contorting in anguish. "What I learned in this process is that a mother's love doesn't just shut off like a switch either, and I imagine that must be how Christ feels for us."
Treating mental illness
Though Malik, the oldest of five children, had threatened to harm his family on three other occasions, it was hard to take his words seriously when his actions showed him only as "an extremely loving brother," Melissa said.
It's one of the pitfalls of understanding people with mental illness, she said. What people think and feel is not always reflected in their words, and vice versa.
"You don't know somebody's thinking about murdering somebody until they decide to let you know or show some signs or behaviors that they're going to. Neither one was the case with Malik, period," Melissa said.
Malik started showing signs of mental illness around age 15, about the time he told his parents he no longer believed in God. He turned "dark" and "uncomfortable," spiraling into a deep depression that left him unmotivated to finish high school, get a job or enroll in college.
The Murphys said they did what any good parents would do - they attended mental health counseling with him, regulated his medication and prayed fervently. Sometimes it seemed like those methods were working; other times it didn't.
"There was a lot of back and forth, and that's what was confusing about Malik," Melissa said.
Even mental health professionals struggled, she said.
No one could "dig in" to what he was really thinking or explain his behavior. Once they labeled him as manic depressive and placed him on mood stabilizers. Another time they tried psychoanalytic therapy, though they stopped short of diagnosing him schizophrenic. No one had a real term for Malik, his parents said.
He went against the textbook.
"Most kids who think like this have got a history of hurting animals, got a history of being in fights, got a history of violence, aggression, suspensions. ... We didn't have any of those boxes to check with Malik," Melissa said.
It was those challenges that Vinnie said "made it pretty much impossible to predict" that Malik would ultimately turn a knife on his family.
"Predict, foresee and protect your family," Melissa added. "We just feel like we failed our children; we weren't able to protect them well. We protected them the very best we could with what we knew and had, but still, that doesn't console us."
Search for answers
Their story is the "worst fear" of any family with loved ones suffering with mental illness, especially those disorders that manifest in aggression, Melissa said.
Though Malik never showed physical violence before - he never even back-talked his parents, they said - Melissa had noticed him withdrawing and seeking seclusion, including in the hours before the killings. She had asked him about it over a meal at McDonald's that afternoon, but he told her he was just tired.
Later that night, as he would later tell police, he decided he wanted to be alone in his home and set out to kill his family and bury their bodies in the backyard. He started with Noah and Sophia, with whom he shared a room. Vinnie would later hold him down until police arrived.
In hindsight, Melissa said she thinks Malik had "decided he was done discussing what he was really thinking and feeling," because each time before when he admitted wanting to hurt his family he was forced to stay elsewhere - sometimes for a month and once for a school year.
This time, "he just had decided he was done doing that," Melissa said. "He was no longer going to go and be put away anywhere anymore."
While they want Malik to take responsibility for his actions, and say he needs to be "punished," they also wonder if tragedy could have been prevented if they had been privy to more information about Malik's mental state. Up until he turned 18, his parents had sat in on his counseling sessions and made all the decisions about his medication, but as soon as he legally became an adult the law shut them out, they said.
They didn't know he'd decided the month before the killings to change counselors, and when he checked himself into a crisis center that July they could only take his word that he went for "depression." No one mentioned "homicidal ideations," the Murphys said.
"We are definitely not, as a family, blaming the mental health community," Melissa said. But "we do feel there is faultiness in there ... that enables families to not be successful."
"At least in our case, if there was more of a comprehensive inventory of Malik's life - his abilities, his current status - then that could have possibly opened up more of an exchange, instead of just drawing the line that he's an adult and, OK, now, 'Adult, you make your own decisions,'" Vinnie said.
Aside from a cautionary tale, the Murphys said mainly they hope their story encourages other families to draw closer, and to spread kindness to those in need.
They've felt the love of strangers who have sent tokens in Noah's and Sophia's memory; they've shared in the struggles of other families living with mental illness; and they've been lifted up by the financial generosity of hundreds who have "allowed us to grieve and be and have certain worries eased," Vinnie said.
"This experience has just really opened up our eyes to, it's not just us that's grieving," Melissa said. "It's what really reminds us that there is still goodness in this world, that God's word is still true."
It's those things, the Murphys say, which will carry them through tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, as they continue to navigate their new reality and fight toward healing and, ultimately, forgiveness, for themselves and for Malik.
"We don't know what it looks like in the end," Vinnie admits,
"But we trust God will get us there. He will. I have to believe that," Melissa says. "I have to believe He will get me there, and I will choose to still believe, and that the Lord will finish the good works which he has started in Malik ... 'cause then, what would have been the purpose of Noah and Sophia's life?"
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