Anthony Templet did not waste time telling the 911 operator why he was calling. “I just killed my dad,” the 17-year-old said in a shaky voice the night of 3 June 2019. There was some confusion on the other end of the line. “You said you just killed your dad?” the operator asked. When Anthony replied affirmatively, she continued: “So, is he still alive?”
Burt Templet, Anthony’s father, was not. His son shot him dead that night. Anthony Templet has never denied that fact. “I grabbed two [guns] in case one didn’t work,” he said during an interrogation, shortly after the 911 call. “I hadn’t shot these guns in so long.” But Anthony has long maintained his innocence, asserting that he killed his father as a result of years of abuse he suffered at Burt’s hands, and because he felt he had no other way to guarantee his own safety.
“I want people to know that I’m not crazy, and I’m not a murderer, and I’m innocent,” he says in the new Netflix documentary I Just Killed My Dad, which looks into Anthony’s life, the killing of his father, and the ensuing court case. Later on, he adds of his father’s death: “I felt terrible [after it], but I didn’t see any other way.”
The documentary is a compelling look into a complex court case, during which jurors were asked to ponder two opposing factors: the picture of Anthony’s abusive upbringing, versus the danger he says he was in at the time of the shooting. It paints a damning portrait of his father who, we are told, was an abusive partner to Anthony’s mother before abducting the five-year-old-boy. From then on, according to the documentary, Burt kept Anthony in such a state of isolation from the world that the boy was considered missing by part of his family – until he resurfaced by way of his 911 call after shooting his father.
“It seemed like in the news media, it was just a random shooting – this privileged white boy shooting his dad,” Elena Fennell, Anthony’s work supervisor, says in I Just Killed My Dad. “I just knew there was more with this story.”
When Elena first met Anthony, it seemed to her like the teenage boy had “never been outside of his house”. He didn’t know the names Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks. He didn’t know what a high-five was. “I just thought Anthony had been seriously neglected,” Elena says. “He didn’t ever meet any of his relatives for the holidays. He didn’t know if he had any grandparents. He didn’t know his [mom’s name].”
Anthony Templet was born to Burt Templet and Teresa Thompson. When she met Burt, Teresa says in I Just Killed My Dad, she was going through “a very difficult time”. She was in the middle of a divorce, with two other children, working seven days a week at a crab shack in Ingleside, Louisiana. Things were fun at first but quickly took a turn after they moved to Houston, Texas together. Teresa noticed Burt’s “erratic behaviours”. He “demanded attention from the moment he walked in until he was asleep.” On one occasion, Teresa says Burt “beat [her] up so bad [she] was in bed for a week.”
“I still don’t know why I stayed after that,” she says. “More out of fear, I think, from then on.”
A couple of years into the relationship, Teresa became pregnant with Anthony. “She had the baby, and the beatings kept on,” Teresa’s mother Patricia says in the documentary. Eventually, Teresa started hiding notes around her house saying that if she were to die, “Burt did it.” She says one of Burt’s friends showed up one night and told her Burt had hired him to kill her.
Teresa wanted out. She wanted herself and Anthony to get away from Burt. She left, but was “afraid that if [she] took Anthony, Burt would kill [her] and [her] family.” When she returned to Houston to get Anthony, she says he and Burt were gone. Burt was supposed to appear at a hearing and give Teresa custody of Anthony, but Burt didn’t show up and “disappeared” with the boy, Teresa says.
“Domestic violence usually translates into custody battles, because that’s the most impactful way that an abuser can hurt the other parent,” Maisha Colter, the CEO of Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, an organisation where Teresa sought assistance, says. “I’ve seen this happen many, many times, where it’s not at all about the child in question. It’s not about Anthony. It’s about, ‘I want to control the situation, and here’s my new way to control the situation.’”
Teresa searched for her son, in vain. She printed flyers and pinned them in Ingleside and Houston. She found out Anthony was in Baton Rouge, travelled there, and put up more flyers. She went through the court system in Baton Rouge and Burt was forced to give Anthony back to her. “I really thought that I would never see Burt again, but I forgot what an evil man he was,” she says. “Retaliation is something he’s good at.”
Teresa says Burt watched her and her family at their home in Ingleside. One day, in Teresa’s absence, her mother says a police officer came to the house “to pick up Anthony” because “his father wanted him”. “I didn’t think it was legal, but you don’t tell a policeman that,” Patricia says. The cop, according to Patricia, led Anthony away, and his grandmother “never saw him again”.
“I don’t know why the cops ended up on his side,” Anthony says. “I don’t know what happened. I wish it all went differently, but I can’t really blame her for that.”
Colter said Burt had filed his own lawsuit in Louisiana, to contradict the custody ruling having put Anthony in Teresa’s care in Texas. “He didn’t physically kidnap AJ, but he certainly used the court system and his lawyer to take that child from Teresa Thompson,” Jarrett Ambeau, Anthony’s defence attorney, says.
“It’s expensive to file lawsuits, and most people don’t have the wherewithal, in a domestic violence situation, to keep going,” Colter says. Teresa, at this point, felt she had run out of resources and that “survival was all [she] could afford”.
Susan Templet, Anthony’s stepmother, provides insight into what Anthony’s life appears to have been like under the custody of his father. Anthony has said his father got in the way of his education; Susan says the boy “had never been in school” and she had to teach him his name, his date of birth, his address, and his phone number. Anthony learned how to write at 10 years old, and she taught him addition, subtraction and multiplication. Burt told her not to teach his son division. After his father’s killing, Anthony was asked during an interrogation whether he knew how to read and gave a straight answer – “I know how to read.” When he was asked whether he knew how to write, his answer was less definitive: “I can write every letter in the alphabet,” he said.
Burt seemingly kept track of everyone’s movements in his home. “At every single moment, I was being tracked by something,” Anthony says in the documentary. “Whether it be another person, or a camera, or a mobile app.” Susan, her own son Peyton, and Anthony himself describe Burt as mentally and physically abusive – someone whose presence made those around him nervous, prone to throwing objects, yelling, punching, and other forms of violence. “Very rarely was it anything other than hell living there,” Peyton says. Anthony, we are told, was not allowed to spend time with other children. He never saw a doctor or a dentist. He rarely was outside of the house by himself.
After a night during which Burt punched her in the face and told her “You have no idea what I’m capable of, little girl,” Susan left and filed a restraining order against him. “If I had tried to take Anthony from [Burt], I would be dead,” she says. “Because there would not have been a safe rock for me to hide under. I had no choice.”
Eventually, Anthony says he felt “like [his] life was in danger”, and “like no one could help [him]”. On the night of his father’s death, he says he was asleep when Burt came into his room and accused him of having been in contact with Susan – which Burt had forbidden. Anthony and Burt argued, and Anthony says his father physically attacked him. He says he locked himself in Burt’s bedroom and – while Burt was “busting the door down” – grabbed the two guns. “I felt like this was the worst I’d ever seen him,” he says. “I felt like my life was really in danger.”
I Just Killed My Dad takes care to provide a full picture of what Anthony says his life was like with his father – from the surveillance resulting in a constant threat of violence to the belief that no one, no system, would ever guarantee his safety. Anthony’s legal team drove these points home with the prosecution. In 2019, Anthony took a deal under which he pleaded no contest to negligent homicide and had to serve five years under probation. An original charge of second-degree murder was previously reduced to manslaughter before the deal was negotiated.
“When I saw this injustice, I said, ‘Absolutely, no way should this kid be in jail,” Ambeau said in 2021, according to WAFB. “Well, that’s the outcome we have. It may not be the thing we have hoped, but this is an imperfect system. We try to find the best possible justice and I think we got that today.”
I Just Killed My Dad is streaming on Netflix from 9 August