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Comment: Broken Hearts on Mother’s Day

Eight-year-old Martin “Marty” Cobb of Virginia won’t be with his mother on Mother’s Day.

On May Day, Marty was playing with his 12-year-old sister near their home in South Richmond when a 16-year-old boy appeared. According to media accounts, the teenager attempted to assault Marty’s big sister. When Marty tried to protect her, the teenager allegedly hit the little boy in the head with a rock, killing him. Marty, said to be small for his age, is being praised by his relatives and neighbors for standing up to the older boy.

“He’s a hero,” his mother said.

An ocean separates Marty’s family from 300 girls at the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeastern Nigeria. As with Marty and his sister, though, the girls were where they belonged when unrestrained horror entered their lives.

The girls were preparing to take final exams three weeks ago when armed men in uniforms burst into their dormitory.

A local official had received a warning that 20 pickup trucks and more than 30 motorcycles carrying men with weapons were headed to town, and he alerted the 15 soldiers guarding the school. But the soldiers, like Marty, were outmatched. They ran out of ammunition and couldn’t fend off the assault.

About 250 girls were abducted, driven away into the woods. Forty or 50 more reportedly escaped.

You have to think of the mothers.

All of those empty arms. All of those broken hearts. The misery, the sorrow, the desolation.

Who was it that separated Marty from his mom?

The 16-year-old charged in Marty’s death also was charged in an attack on a 3-year-old boy in 2010, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

According to court documents obtained by the newspaper from the victim’s family, the teen, who was 12 at the time, hit the 3-year-old in the head with the back side of a hammer. The little boy had been lured into a home with the promise of a hot dog, a family member told the newspaper, and then was choked and struck. The boy underwent an emergency operation in which a metal plate was placed in his skull, reported the Times-Dispatch. A law enforcement source, the newspaper said, confirmed the details.

The older child was scheduled to receive mental health treatment in connection with that incident.

One of Marty’s neighbors told the newspaper that the teenager’s mother had tried to get help for her troubled son but had a hard time doing so. The neighbor said the teenager’s mother has apologized to Marty’s family.

A juvenile-court judge has ordered the 16-year-old to remain in custody and set another hearing for May 20.

And so it goes on the streets of South Richmond this Mother’s Day.

It goes even worse in northern Nigeria.

The kidnappers operate under the name Boko Haram, which means, roughly, “Western education is sinful.” Given that belief, it follows that the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School is a sinful place and that the students studying inside are sinners.

So simple, so sinister, so stupid.

So Boko Haram took the girls captive and set fire to their school dorm. Boko Haram’s leader, Abubaker Shekau, called the girls “slaves” and threatened to sell them in a marriage market.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day on these shores, think of the parents of the kidnapped girls who pooled their money, bought fuel for their vehicles and launched a search of their own for their daughters.

Put yourself in their place as they learn from villagers that some of the kidnapped girls have been forced into “marriage” with their kidnappers or have been sold for a bride price of $12.

“She is my first-born, the best,” one anguished mother told The Associated Press. “What am I to do as a mother?”

This isn’t a nice world for some children — or their mothers. And most, like the mom in South Richmond and mothers of the missing Nigerian girls, don’t have the luxury of falling to pieces. They can’t just drop back, go out like a light. They have other children to raise; they have to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. For them it’s all in, waging everything.

Oh, how we honor motherhood.

King is a former deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post .