The murder-suicide of a San Francisco father and his 9-year-old son occurred as a custody battle with the boy’s mother — and a dispute over whether to vaccinate him — played out in court.
Stephen O’Loughlin, 49, was found shot to death, alongside his son, Pierce O’Loughlin on Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Police found the father and son after the boy’s mother notified authorities that the young boy hadn’t shown up for school that day.
They were identified by a medical examiner on Friday.
O’Loughlin was in a bitter custody battle with the boy’s mother, Lesley Hu, at the time of his death, according to the newspaper. O’Loughlin’s fierce opposition to their son’s vaccination was one issue the couple were litigating, court documents show.
The Bay Area father allegedly protested against the 9-year-old receiving inoculations since the boy was an infant. O’Loughlin claimed his son Pierce was “vaccine-injured” and had undergone severe weight loss and chronically vomited after receiving shots as a young boy.
“This is not an ‘anti-vax’ parent seeking to prevent his child from being vaccinated,” O’Loughlin’s lawyers stated court records filed on Jan. 5. “For the average child, the risk-to-benefit ratio for vaccines is in favor of vaccinations. For a certain subset of society, however, that is not the case. Pierce is one of those people.”
The suspected murder-suicide comes as the United States undertakes an ambitious vaccination program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hu, however, denied doctors had ever diagnosed the child as “vaccine-injured.” She described O’Loughlin’s “anti-vaxxer” stance as “cult-like'' in September court filings. O’Loughlin became so paranoid over the boy’s health, she said, he began filming the child’s breathing several times daily.
“Yes, the parents disagreed about vaccinations, but they disagreed about other issues affecting the child’s well-being,” Lorie Nachlis, Hu’s lawyer, told the Chronicle. “In fact, they disagreed about whether Pierce was a healthy child or a sick child. Was his stuffy nose a product of allergies or something bigger? Pierce wasn’t killed because of a disagreement over a stuffy nose and he wasn’t killed because of a disagreement regarding vaccinations. He was killed for much more complex reasons.”
Nachlis said the murder-suicide was more likely the result of the California father’s “untreated mental illness.”
“I think it is undeniable that Pierce’s father suffered from untreated mental illness, which resulted in his taking the life of his son and his own life,” Nachlis added. “I believe that he did this horrid act in order to exercise the ultimate control over Lesley.”
The California father’s conspiracy beliefs likely originated from a “new-age” self-help organization he attended for several years, his wife said. Between 2012 and 2016, O’Loughlin allegedly ponied up thousands of dollars to the group, which “convinced” him that “the government was out to get us and was trying to mind-control us,” Hu wrote in court papers.
An upcoming court date in March would have ruled on which parent would have complete control over all future medical decisions regarding the child, according to Hu’s legal team.
“He was losing his control, he punished Lesley with the ultimate act of violence: Killing her child,” Nachlis stated. “She will suffer, as intended, for the rest of her life.”
Nine-year-old Pierce attended Convent & Stuart Hall, a private Catholic school in San Francisco, according to the Chronicle. Sarah Leffert, chief advancement officer for the school, said its community had been “devastated” by the boy’s death.
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