When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Christian Longo

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.

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Christian Longo

On December 19, 2001, the body of a 4-year-old boy was found floating in a waterway off the Pacific Ocean in Waldport, Oregon. Two days later, divers found the body of the boy’s 3-year-old sister in the same area. Five days later, the bodies of the boy’s 2-year-old sister as well as his mother were also found. Their father, Christian Longo, had murdered all of them.

Christian Longo drowned his wife and 3 children in different Oregon rivers in December of 2001.

Christian Longo drowned his wife and 3 children in different Oregon rivers in December of 2001.

Christian Longo is the oldest of two children born to Joy Longo. Joy divorced Christian’s father when he was four and remarried Joe Longo. The family was Catholic but converted to Jehovah’s Witness when Christian was 10. According to Joe, church activities became a “focal point” of their “family life.” Christian wet his bed until he was 10. When he did not get good grades in public school, Christian hacked into the school’s computer system to change his grades. As a result, and because Christian was “easily distracted in school,” his parents withdrew him and homeschooled him through high school. According to Christian’s in-laws, however, the homeschooling was — in reality — “inadequate to prepare him for life in a world that wasn’t a warm cocoon of like-minded believers.” Christian never graduated high school, though he “dedicated himself to the door-to-door work of the Jehovah Witnesses.”

The Longo family was conservative. They taught their kids that “outside the cloister of the Witnesses, the devil was waiting.” Joe and Joy did not allow Christian to date — even after he turned 18. As a result, he left home a week after his 18th birthday. He married Mary-Jane, also a Jehovah’s Witness. He robbed a jewelry store he worked at and began using false names and stolen credit cards, even stealing a test car. He forged $30,000 worth of checks and then moved with his wife and three children — all born between 1997 and 1999 — from Michigan to Ohio. As authorities pursued him due to his criminal activities, he stole a van and moved his family once again to Oregon. Knowing he was about to be caught by authorities, he drowned his wife and 3 children in different Oregon rivers in December of 2001. He justified this in his mind with the idea that he was “sending his family to a better place.” Christian then fled to Mexico. He was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in January 2002.

In Cancun, Mexico, Christian once again used a false name, though this time the name of a real person — Michael Finkel, a writer for the New York Times. A few weeks later, on January 14, 2002, he was arrested. In 2003, Christian was convicted and sentenced to death. He is still on death row. Michael Finkel, the man Christian impersonated, wrote a story about him for Esquire in 2009.

A movie is currently being made about Christian Longo’s life, starring James Franco and Jonah Hill. James Franco will be playing the role of Christian.

View the case index here.

3 comments

  • Why do HA and HIC always mention whether the parents have divorced? Did it some up in the case – even for the adults? Do the news outlets you pull from always report that? Divorce can be stressful for a child (so can having parents who stay together and treat the child/eachother badly) but divorce alone does not a violent criminal make.
    I thought I left the “divorce is evil” ideas behind when I left the influence of my abusive conservative family (parents married for 30 years now).

    • None of the “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” cases on HA aim to attribute the perpetrator’s action to any particular factor (unless the perpetrator explicitly stated a factor). We are simply documenting the stories and details as we find them. I can’t speak for HIC cases. But for the cases here the reason for including divorce as a detail absolutely varies by each individual case. It is mentioned in this particular case simply for accuracy: Joe and Joy Longo are often cited as Christian’s parents but Joe is not the birth father, a fact frequently brought up in news reports.

      And as a side note: I completely agree that divorce alone does not a violent criminal make. I also agree that divorce can be and often is a necessary, beneficial, and healthy action for many reasons.

    • Whatever your personal beliefs about divorce, you can’t deny that divorce is a big upheaval and a source of stress on a child’s life.

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