Prime Video Adds True Crime Documentary About “One horribly violent and shocking act”

The Family I Had

I seem to be drawn to dark documentaries. I certainly watch enough of them. There’s something fascinating about looking into the criminal mind and trying to understand what drives a person to do the unthinkable. Given that I digest a lot of true crime content, it takes a lot to rattle me. But The Family I Had, now streaming on Prime Video, really did manage to get under my skin. It’s a tragic doc that takes the viewer on an emotional roller coaster likely to leave them feeling dizzied and unsettled. 

The Family I Had recalls the murder of Ella Bennett at the hands of her 13-year-old brother, Paris Lee Bennett. The documentary is told largely through the perspective of Ella’s mother, Charity, and chronicles the family’s attempts to put the pieces back together following a devastating turn of events.       

Part of what makes this doc such an intense watch is the fact that it doesn’t waste any time getting down to brass tacks. A few minutes in, Charity Lee (mother of Paris) recalls the day the police came to her workplace to tell her that her daughter had been killed. When Charity asked them if her son was safe, the officers broke the news her son was responsible for his sister’s death. After dropping that bomb, the timeline briefly jumps back to happier times to provide context. But knowing the direction the doc is headed makes it almost painful to hear what preceded Paris’ violent turn. We’re left lying in wait, knowing that the story is careening toward a tragic conclusion.  

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Co-directors Carlye Rubin and Katie Green do a commendable job of getting those profiled to hold nothing back. They succeed remarkably at coaxing those weighing in to tell their story in an honest and accessible way. Charity Lee makes herself vulnerable as she relives her grief on camera. She holds nothing back, giving us a firsthand account of the horror she endured. It’s tragic enough that she had to experience the loss of a child. But for her to lose one at the hands of another is incomprehensible. She effectively lost two children that day. 

In addition to losing one child forever and seeing the other incarcerated, Charity also faced judgment from community members in her small Texas town. Everyone had opinions on what she must have done wrong for her son to do what he did. But it seems few people examined her situation through an empathetic lens. She didn’t do everything right. She made mistakes. But to vilify her is to heap insult on top of injury.  

Though I disagree with the way her community turned on her, I will concede that Charity bears a certain amount of responsibility for her son’s actions. I don’t imagine she meant to be neglectful. And I have to assume she was doing her best. But I couldn’t help but wince upon learning she was warned that Paris had homicidal tendencies prior to Ella’s death. In spite of that, she chose to cease treatment with the facility that made that assessment. 

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I can imagine a parent probably doesn’t know how to reconcile the kind of information with which she was presented. And maybe she convinced herself it wasn’t true. But taking that diagnosis more seriously might have saved Ella’s life. I’m sure that realization pains her to consider. It certainly rattled me. But it’s also impossible to fairly and accurately judge someone when you haven’t walked in their shoes. 

Perhaps the most difficult segment of the doc for me to endure is hearing Paris recount how he was feeling on the day he took his sister’s life. He recalls having the realization that he was going to snap and contemplated killing his babysitter or maybe a stranger. The idea that a child of 13 could be capable of something so violent is unthinkable. We tend to see children as needing to be shielded from the evils of the world. But in this case, it was a child perpetrating evil against another. It’s hard to reconcile that. And it’s even harder to speculate as to Paris’ true intentions years after the fact.

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The court system labeled Paris a sociopath, which seems to be fitting. But it gives me pause when he appears to express genuine remorse and seems to care deeply for his youngest brother, Phoenix, who came into the world during his incarceration. It’s very possible that Paris is putting on a façade. But a small part of me can’t help but wonder if he does feel a level of remorse. If he is a sociopath, he does a convincing job of putting on human emotions. He even goes so far as to describe feeling a level of guilt for what he’s done to his family. A true sociopath wouldn’t be capable of feeling guilt. They would, however, be capable of putting on a front and pretending to be remorseful. So, you’ll have to decide for yourself if there’s a level of sincerity to his words. 

No matter what drove Paris’ actions on that fateful day, The Family I Had stands as an unflinching portrait of a family destroyed by violence. It shook me and left me reeling. But if you’re still eager to track the film down with that in mind, you can find the flick streaming on Prime Video.   



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