Now that we have David Westerfield convicted of the rape and murder of Danielle Van Dam, it's time to arrest the others who helped facilitate his access to her. It's time to prosecute the people who were accomplices in the sex-and-drugs drenched environment which placed a little girl in mortal danger, ending her life in a manner which for us is unimaginable. It's time the Van Dams were arrested just like all the other parents whose selfish, thoughtless actions contribute to the death of their child.
Why? Consider this: A baby who is forgotten by his father and left in a sweltering car, dies. The D.A. would call it a homicide. A woman forgets about her toddler and leaves him in her car for seven hours in searing heat while she works her shift at a fast food restaurant. The mother would then be charged with negligent child abuse resulting in death — a felony.
I think these charges are appropriate. As a community we have decided to hold parents accountable when their actions place their children in harms way. Like doing something that leads to their death.
So, I have one question — why aren't Brenda and Damon Van Dam facing felony child endangerment charges? They should be. As we all know, their daughter Danielle was abducted, raped and murdered by Westerfield, a neighbor and Brenda Van Dam's 'dirty dancing' partner. We all applauded the Westerfield guilty verdict. And yet, during that trial it became sickeningly obvious how the Van Dam's "lifestyle" allowed this murderous pervert into their home. If that's not child endangerment, I don't know what is.
In trial testimony, Damon Van Dam admitted the night his daughter was kidnapped, he and his wife were indulging in their usual sex escapades with whomever they happened to bring home. While his wife and various women friends took drugs in the garage, Damon had sex with one of her friends. All this while the children were home. He also didn't bother the check on his daughter at 2:30 a.m. when they were finished with that evening's bacchanalian activities. Police estimate that Danielle was already gone by then. Because of Damon's carelessness, he wouldn't find his daughter missing until the morning, in part allowing Westerfield to make his daughter's last night a living hell.
Some have argued that the 'choices' of the Van Dams do not make them responsible for Westerfield's actions. I agree. But they are responsible for their actions. When you bring people in your home to take drugs and have orgies you are introducing a type of person who is more inclined to put you and your children at risk. That must be rather obvious to the Van Dams right now. Their daughter is dead. But they couldn't see through their own obsession with satisfying their own needs to be concerned with the repercussion of their actions. Those 'needs' put their daughter in danger.
Her parents actions also probably facilitated Westerfield's easy access to and kidnapping of Danielle. If a stranger entered her bedroom, she most likely would have screamed — but she probably knew her rapist-killer to be a regular guest, a friend of her parents (like no doubt so many others who were there over the years for drugs and sex). So, Danielle trusted him and was not on guard.
Her parents are responsible for exposing their little girl to a sexual pervert while simultaneously making her comfortable with him. While stupidity rules the parent who forgets a child in a car, the depravity of the Van Dams is what helped to condemn little Danielle. Yes, they had a home in the suburbs, yes, they looked nice, and yes their daughter is dead because of their astounding immoral irresponsibility.
The "I-forgot-my-baby" parents had a fatal lapse of memory. It can happen. It is also astounding, but it's not calculated, does not happen over and over again, and yet we still prosecute them. The Van Dams, on the other, chose to lead a life and place all their children in repeated danger so they could satiate their own self-obsessed prurient desires. It was the debauchery of her parents, their narcissistic obsession with themselves, that in part doomed Danielle.
Do I feel sorry for the fools who leave their kid in a car absentmindedly, leaving them to die? Yes. I also feel prosecution on various levels of child endangerment charges, considering all the facts, is appropriate. I also feel sorrier for those parents than I do for the Van Dams because you can actually call those situations, where the parents truly forgot, an accident. Not so in the Van Dam household. It's time we feel sorrier for Danielle than for her parents. What happened to her was no accident and I think it's safe to say would not have happened if her parents did not lead a lifestyle that brought a pedophile into the home. That's child endangerment of the most serious kind.
Of course, there is a big difference between the I-Forgot parents and a situation like Danielle's — another person was involved. When a child is left in a car the parent's culpability is more clear. With Danielle, a monster came in and took her away. Make no mistake, though — all this does is mitigate the parents' responsibility, but it does not eliminate it. Westerfield murdered Danielle — her parents endangered her. Both are crimes and both should be prosecuted.