I didn’t know Andy Kimbrel. I don’t know his widow, Stephanie Keller. But I can’t help but stare at this Facebook picture of them from less than a year ago — and wonder why she killed him Thursday night.
Kimbrel was a police officer in a safe and affluent suburb of Birmingham where I drive almost every day. I had never heard of either of them until police announced today that he was the victim of a murder in a domestic incident last night — and his widow has been charged with murder.
I have absolutely no idea what happened between them, so I have no opinion about whether it’s murder or if it’s justified in some way. I’m not even especially interested in that part of it right now. Instead, I find myself looking at this pair — who have been married only a couple of years — and wonder how it is that two people who seemed deeply in love could come to this.
Why do we humans tend to hurt or even kill the people we love?
The Facebook accounts of the murdered man and his jailed widow are both full of public photos — and there are frequent references to how much they loved each other. They sounded happy.
On this picture — which he selected as his profile picture — Stephanie commented, “Oooo who’s that hot chick in your car?” with a wink.
Andy “loved” her comment and responded.
“That’s the most beautiful and amazing woman in the world!” he said. “My partner, My other half, My best friend, My wife Stephanie Kimbrel!”
That was last May. How do two people get from gushing public love for one another to the sort of conflict that leads to homicide?
I’m not really thinking about the specifics of this couple as much as I’m thinking about the human race. This is a common pattern. When somebody is unexpectedly killed, the person most likely to be guilty of the crime is considered to be the husband or wife.
Why is the person most likely to hurt us also the person who we trust to love us most?
I suspect part of the problem is that we marry people with the hope or expectation that they will change to become what we want them to be. When they remain as they are — with the same faults and frustrating habits that we overlooked at first — we feel trapped and angry.
People tend to be on their best behavior before they marry. They’re each in the process of “selling” the other. But after the honeymoon phase wears off, we relax and let our guard down. The parts of ourselves which had been hidden before now comes out — sometimes in ugly ways — leading to disillusionment and conflict.
We tend to idealize other people, at least in the beginning. Even if we see their flaws, we see whatever good things attracted us to them and think that surely those good qualities will be dominant in the relationship.
But it often turns out that the qualities we thought we saw were illusions. We often see what we want to see in other people. And the things other people tell us — especially about things they swear they will change — simply don’t come true. And that leads to bitterness and resentment.
Before we know it, the qualities that attracted us to the person are gone. All we see are the things which disappoint us in the other. We feel betrayed. We feel deceived. We feel angry that we’ve taken a chance on this person who refuses to become what we want.
And at that point, it’s easy for anger to become hatred. It’s easy for anger to turn white hot — and it’s easy to justify killing someone who we had idolized not so long before.
I’ve had friends in marriages that were volatile enough that I feared for the physical safety of one of the partners. In every case, that relationship has been one which I didn’t think should have ever led to marriage in the first place. But we have complicated and opaque reasons for choosing the people we marry.
I don’t know why Andy Kimbrel is dead. If Stephanie Keller really killed him, I have no idea why she did it. I have no opinions about them as individuals or even about their marriage.
I just know that human beings keep marrying other humans who they believe they love. They have happy wedding photos and vacation pictures and family photos with children. They start out with all the right intentions and they start out full of what they think is love.
And then one of these happy people smiling at us in the photos kills the other — and we’re left once again to think about the unwise decisions all of us make.
And we’re left to ponder the dark places that are hidden in the heart of every human.
Note: On Oct. 22, 2021, Stephanie Keller was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Andy Kimbrel.