- - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Twenty years ago today, a New Jersey high school senior named Melissa Drexler went to her prom—a very normal thing for teenagers to do.

But during the evening, she left her friends on the dance floor of the catering hall and entered the ladies restroom. There, she gave birth to a son and, according to The New York Times coverage of what happened next, Drexler “cut the umbilical cord, choked him and put him in a plastic bag that she knotted and threw away.”

Friends knocked at the door. She said, ”I’ll be done pretty soon. Go tell the boys we’ll be right out.”

She exited the bathroom and sat down at her table. She ate a salad, then danced one song with her boyfriend.

Very soon, what happened in the bathroom came to light, as the janitor was called to clean the mess she had left behind—and found the dead infant.

The callous manner of the murder shocked everyone—and the story went national. Labeled “Prom Mom” by the tabloids, people worked hard to try and come to an understanding of how someone could not just commit infanticide, but also return to the dance floor as though nothing had happened.

Also strange was the fact that nobody had seemed to know that Drexler had been pregnant: not her parents, her boyfriend, nor her friends who had gone with their third-trimester friend to try on prom dresses. Because of this, some people wanted to claim—or guess—that Drexler didn’t even know she was pregnant. Maybe it was all just an accident?

But in her court testimony, Drexler admitted that she knew she was pregnant, that her water broke that morning, that she went to the prom anyway, and that she knew she was killing the baby. She pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter and the judge sentenced her to 15 years in prison—the maximum sentence. Drexler served just over three years and was released in November 2001.

In recalling such a sordid piece of news—now twenty years old today—I’m still left feeling what I did two decades ago when this story first broke: sackcloth and ashes.

I have a son who will be twenty on his next birthday.

Some crimes serve as an indictment on the larger society from which they arose. Infanticide has occurred throughout human history. But callous, middle-class, infanticide as a means of not missing a night of teenage fun? When that happens, it should give reason to pause for reflection.

Had Drexler aborted the child 2-3 months earlier, our culture would have looked the other way. Or even funded the procedure. But since she carried the child full-term and then threw it in the trash receptacle, she became “Prom Mom.” But morally, what’s the difference between the two actions? How does 60 or 90 days change the morality of the action?  

“Christopher”: the name Melissa Drexler later gave the baby.

A beautiful name in both sound and meaning: “Christ-bearer”—the idea that Christians bear Christ in their hearts.

Jesus Christ was born in a manger and, as an infant, he was hunted down for execution by King Herod.

But in the fullness of time, Jesus bore our sin while on the cross. Now, those who bear him in their hearts feel sorrow for sin and find salvation from it. That offer goes out to everyone, no matter what they have done or who they did it to. That’s grace.

Christopher Drexler—born twenty years ago today—we remember you. May reflecting on your brief, snuffed out life lead to our national repentance.

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