Brandon Warren

On July 26, 2001, 14-year-old Brandon Warren from Kenly, North Carolina shot and killed his 13-year-old brother Bradley and his 19-year-old sister Marnie Rose. He then turned his gun on himself and committed suicide.

All of the Warren children — Bradley, Brandon, Marnie Rose, and their older brother Ellis (21) — were homeschooled by their parents, Boyd and Nissa Mae. The family had a history of interactions with social workers due to dysfunction and the children having visible bruises. In fact, in just the 2 months prior to the murder-suicide, social workers talked with the parents 11 times but “the Warrens routinely turned them away, forcing them to get a court order for each visit.” Their house reportedly had “rotting food, animal feces on the floor.” Shortly prior to the murder-suicide, Social Service inspectors had “warned the parents that if they didn’t clean up their home, they could lose their children.”

The Warren family’s troubled state, however, went back a decade. In 1991, the parents were convicted of child abuse in another state, Arizona, where they also homeschooled. After the conviction, the family moved to their current home in North Carolina.

On the day of the attack, Brandon accessed his mother’s .22-caliber rifle and used it to kill his siblings and then himself. A motive was never publicly stated. However, Nissa Mae’s reaction to losing three of her children was chilling: she told a detective that she would “rather God had them than Child Protective Services.”

While Brandon was ruled to have murdered his siblings and then committed suicide, Brandon’s parents were also charged in the case due to squalid living conditions. Boyd and Nissa Mae were both charged “with misdemeanor child abuse and storing firearms in a manner accessible to a child.”

Homeschool advocates immediately dismissed any connections between the Warren family murder/suicide and homeschooling. In April 2002, Jeff Townsend — president of North Carolinians for Home Education — said he “didn’t see any connections between home education and the teens’ deaths.” But in 2003, the case received heightened media attention due to a CBS report entitled, “A Dark Side to Home Schooling.” The report, which prominently featured Brandon Warren and his family, received the attention mainly because its title provoked a huge backlash from homeschooling communities. Later that year, Rep. Todd Akin — himself a homeschooling father from North Carolina, most recently known for his “legitimate rape” comments — spearheaded a signature-gathering effort and recruited 33 Congress members — 32 Republican, 1 Democrat — to publicly denounce the CBS report.