By Charles M. Kelly

Rest in peace, Millicent.

A little girl named Millicent Wilborn died at the age of 22 months in Seal Beach on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009.

Her mother, Linda Wilborn, 31, was arrested for causing her death on Monday, Feb. 8, 2010. (For details, go to the Crime page on the Sun Newspapers Web site.) She was charged with the “equivalent of murder” and three counts of felony child abuse.

The case hasn’t gone to trial yet. The defendant has not been allowed her day in court. As a matter of law, she is innocent until proven guilty. A judge has yet to decide if the case will go to trial at all.

However, I will comment on the reactions I’ve observed since the story came out.

One woman said she was surprised it could happen here in Seal Beach. That seems to be the most common reaction of all—shock that something like that could happen in this quiet, pretty little town.

I understand that response because I was a little surprised to hear there had been a homicide arrest in Seal Beach. I’ve been covering crime here since the July 14, 2005 issue of the Sun Newspapers and I can tell you there’s little violent crime in this area. But this community has over 24,000 residents. (Millicent was one of them.) Some of those residents will break the law. Some of those lawbreakers will harm others out of foolishness or deliberate cruelty. Even in Seal Beach, people die. It really isn’t that surprising or shocking when you think about it.

Yet it is sad—not because she died in a quaint little town, but sad because she died at the age of 22 months. Millicent should have grown up to feel the sand of our beach between her toes. She won’t get to play on our shore. She won’t become an annoying teenager. She will never frustrate a teacher. She was cheated. So was Seal Beach.

Another woman, one of the kindest and sweetest human beings I’ve ever known, said the person responsible for the crime ought to get the death penalty. That won’t happen. If convicted, Millicent’s mother is looking at 25 to life for the “equivalent of murder.” The call for an execution came from the mother of two beautiful young women. Yet anger over Millicent’s death doesn’t seem to be limited to parents. Young, single people don’t have kids were also outraged.

A couple of people have asked me if mental illness could have caused the crime. I haven’t heard anyone claim that anyone involved in the case is mentally ill. Frankly, I don’t think mental illness explains anything—even if we assume the question is relevant to this one case. My mother was a schizophrenic alcoholic and she didn’t physically abuse me. Come to think of it, in my 48 years I’ve known many people who were raised by substance abusers and mental cases—none of them ever mentioned being abused.

With respect, I have to say that attributing the death of a child to an adult’s mental illness is an attempt by very nice people to make themselves comfortable with a very uncomfortable reality: sometimes children die very young for no good reason. I have no comforting words for anyone today.

On the same day Millicent Wilborn’s mother was arrested, I videotaped the Sidewalk Talk question for our Web site. I didn’t care. That night, I wrote about the San Gabriel River Bike Trail and the Planning Commission. I didn’t care. Now, I love my job and tend to put my passion into my work. However, on Monday, Feb. 8, I honestly did not care about anything and I can’t say I feel at all guilty about that. Compared to the murder of a 22-month-old girl, bike trails and Planning Commission meetings seemed maddeningly trivial. Yet I did my job. There was nothing else to do.

This isn’t the first child abuse case to cross my desk since I wrote my first Crime Log on July 14, 2005. I’ve covered three cases of child sex abuse cases in the past and have a fourth that I’m following through the courts.

This isn’t the first murder case I’ve ever covered, either. I just hope Millicent’s death is the only child murder I have to cover—at least for a while. Sometimes journalists have to write about things we hate. I prefer birth notices to obits any day. Yet sometimes I have to write about sad things, like this.

Rest in peace, Millicent.