"The problem is your mother."
Kelling's father left him and his mother when he was an infant. His mother had a history of depression and suicidal ideation; she used to take many walks for hours, and finally, just a week after his tenth birthday, Kelling followed her onto a bridge on one of her walks and saw her sitting on the ledge, trying to gain the will to commit suicide. However, she was pushed off to her death by Kelling, who, for the rest of his life until he was caught, repressed the memory of him pushing her and thought she jumped by herself. After his mother's death, he was put in a foster family. Eventually, he left the home and became a 911 dispatcher. Years prior to From Childhood's Hour, his foster father died, and then, a month before the episode, his foster mother died and her death became the stressor for Kelling, who began to use his former foster home, which became unoccupied.
From Childhood's HourEdit
Through his job, Kelling receives a 911 call from Bobby Smith, whose mother Marlene is suicidal. Connecting with him and wanting to "save" him, Kelling writes down Bobby's address and follows Marlene and Bobby to Marlene's mother's house. When Marlene drops off Bobby at the house, not knowing that her mother is absent, Kelling arrives and pretends to do a follow-up on Bobby in order to gain his trust. He then takes him to his foster home. At his home, Kelling asks if Bobby wants his mother's pain to end. Bobby says yes and Kelling promises to set Marlene "free". After Marlene is cleared as a suspect, she goes to the grocery store. Kelling approaches her outside, saying he knows where Bobby is. He then leads her into an alleyway and kills her, slashing her wrists to simulate a suicide. However, he goes too far and proceeds to stab her repeatedly also. Kelling then sets his sights on Timothy Tanner, who knew Kelling from the time he called 911 for his mother Kelsey's drug overdose. He abducts Timothy from a park while his mother is busy purchasing drugs. Kelling then takes Timothy to his house, but Timothy is more defiant, continuously saying, "I want my mommy!" Asking Timothy if he wants his mother's pain to end like he did to Bobby, to which he receives the same reply of "Yes"; Kelling then goes to kill Kelsey, but because she is placed into protective custody (due to the BAU's conclusion that the unsub is murdering the mothers of his abducted victims), he is unable to do so. His anger at this outcome increases when Timothy won't stop saying "I want my mommy", so he decides to release him at a bar.
Later, Kelling receives a 911 call from Shannon Barton, a teenage girl whose mother's boyfriend is attempting to rape her, and writes down her address before dispatching authorities to the house. He then arrives at the Barton residence and gets Shannon's mother Connie to open the front door by saying he is doing a follow-up. However, Connie refuses to let the follow-up proceed and tries to shut the door, but Kelling forces his way in and abducts Connie and Shannon at gunpoint. At his foster home, Kelling tells Shannon his own story of his mother's "suicide". He then takes Shannon to the room where he is keeping Connie and Bobby, and forces the latter into a closet and pointing his gun at Connie, telling Shannon that it is her choice to allow him to shoot her. Shannon says that she loves her mother, and Kelling is angered. Fearing that Kelling might kill Shannon, Connie fakes anger at Shannon's decision and cries out to her that she shouldn't have called 911 then. Shannon changes her mind and reluctantly allows Kelling to point his gun at Connie. However, the BAU arrive before Kelling can pull the trigger and tell him the truth about his mother's death. Furious, Kelling yells at them, letting Shannon go as a result. Hotch misinterprets it as an attempt to kill and shoots him in the shoulder, incapacitating him. Bobby is let out of the closet, Connie apologizes to Shannon, and Kelling is arrested.
Kelling targeted households in which the mothers had some sort of major issue that also had an impact on their children, such as depression or drug addiction. He would find his abducted victims, the children, through his job as a 911 dispatcher, receiving calls from them regarding their mothers in some way. He would write down the caller's address and phone number and contact the children at a later time, gaining their trust by saying he was doing a follow-up to see if they were adjusting well to the aftermath. He would then approach them in public areas when they were separated from their mothers, abduct them, and take them to his former foster home. There, he would ask them if they want their mothers' pain to stop, to which he would apparently always receive a reply of yes.
Kelling would then approach the mothers in locations where they were alone, telling them where he knew their sons were and then kill them in ways that simulated their troubled lives; for example, he slashed Marlene Smith's wrists with a knife to simulate her previous suicide attempts (although he also manually strangled her and stabbed her repeatedly with the same knife in a fit of rage). In the case of Connie and Shannon Barton, he abducted them both from their home, utilizing a revolver to keep them compliant; he later attempted to shoot Connie with the same gun. When he killed his own mother, he pushed her off a bridge, causing her to fall into a river and drown as a result.
The unsub is a male aged in his mid-to late-20s, who likely has abandonment issues from his own childhood and is physically fit enough to subdue Marlene Smith and carry out a vicious and sustained attack. It is believed that he sees himself as a rescuer, taking children away from unfit parents. The impulsive nature of committing the murder of Marlene Smith out in the open suggests that he is inexperienced, and the violence displayed in her murder went from precision to frenzy, which points to someone with classic psychopathic traits: quick to rage and quick to recovery. He also appears to have insider knowledge of the families in the area, so the unsub is likely someone who is privy to what went on behind those closed doors, like emergency personnel, first responders, child service workers, and ambulance personnel. Both of the missing children apparently went without struggle or protest, meaning that the unsub also possibly had prior contact with his victims, or the children inadvertently trust him based on his job or a uniform he wears, like that of a doctor, mailman, or policeman. His violence is typically focused on the parents of his abducted children, but his endgame is unknown. Because Kelsey Tanner was put into protective custody, he was deprived of his target, increasing his volatility, which is why it is critical to find the children; if they are alive, he may turn his violence against them.
- February 13, 1994: M.R. Kelling (his mother; full first name unrevealed; suffered from depression and suicidal ideation; pushed her off a bridge and into a river where she drowned; her death was written as a suicide until 2011)
- October 16: Bobby Smith (abducted; was eventually rescued three days later)
- October 18: Marlene Smith (Bobby's mother; suffered from depression and suicidal ideation; slashed her wrists, then manually strangled her and stabbed her repeatedly in the torso)
- October 19:
- Timothy Tanner (abducted; was released)
- Kelsey Tanner (Timothy's mother; suffered from drug addiction; intended to kill, but gave up when she was placed into protective custody)
- Connie Barton and her daughter Shannon (abducted; both were rescued):
- Connie Barton (had a boyfriend who attempted to molest her daughter; tied to a chair and attempted to shoot with a revolver)
- Shannon Barton (briefly held hostage)
- ↑ Curiously, Kelling's flashback shows him pushing his mother onto solid concrete, contrary to the police report on her suicide