Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Columbia, Maryland: Deaths of Tracy Hawks and Christopher Melton, mother and son, ruled murder-suicide

Howard County police complete two-month investigation
By Kellie Woodhouse
Posted 8/09/10

After a two-month investigation, Howard County police have classified as a murder-suicide the death of a Columbia woman and her 18-year-old disabled son.

Police say that Tracy Hawks, 47, used a gas generator June 4 to take her life and that of her son, Christopher Melton, who had autism and mild mental retardation.

New details of the June incident reveal that Hawks suffered from depression.

On the evening of June 4, Hawks’ mother and father called Hawks repeatedly, according to a police report. When she failed to answer, the two went to her Hickory Ridge home to check on Hawks, who had been threatening suicide for more than a month, the father told police. The father used a key to enter the residence, noticed a generator in the dining room and found Hawks and Melton in Hawks’ bedroom, lifeless, a police report states.

He called police, who arrived minutes later. They determined that the “newly purchased” generator was depleted of gas and located a red gas can that was nearly empty, according to the police report. The report states that the two died from suffocation.

Melton, a junior at Atholton High School, participated in the school’s Academic Life Skills special education program. According to the report, his teacher told police that it would not “have occurred to Christopher that his mother would hurt him.”

According to the report, police determined that Melton “was a special needs adult who would not have the capacity for deducing that his mother’s actions would render such life-threatening consequences,” and as such was killed by his mother.

Court documents and the police report show that Hawks was in financial debt, at risk of losing her job as a pharmaceutical rep, in the midst of a divorce and facing criminal charges for misusing her husband’s credit card.

Hawks’ father and sister, who were not named in the report, told police that she struggled with periods of depression throughout her life.

The father said Hawks had been diagnosed with depression two months before her death. According to the police report, Hawks’ sister said, “Tracy had told her best friend... that she was going to commit suicide and take her son with her.”

Because of her threats, Hawks’ family was watchful of her, they told police. Hawks’ sister said they tried not to leave her alone for an extended period of time, the report states.

The sister told police that Hawks had exhibited several warning signs. She told police “she watched Tracy cry every day for two months,” that she received ominous text messages from Hawks, and that Hawks had begun giving her possessions away.

In the report, police said Hawks’ home was “in complete disarray” and was cluttered with paper documents, plastic containers and plastic bags. The report also noted that the residence was sparsely furnished.

According to the sister, Hawks had once been a vigilant homeowner. She told police that “Tracy used to keep her house very neat and orderly, buy expensive stuff and cook (but) she had stopped doing all of these things,” the report states.

On April 26, 2010, the family tried to force Hawks to seek help at Howard County General Hospital, but Hawks would not admit herself into the hospital’s mental health ward voluntarily per the hospital’s guidelines, the report states.

Shortly afterward, Hawks stopped taking her prescription medication, her sister told police.

Hawks’ struggles were first documented in the fall of 2009, when Hawks and her husband, Leslie Hawks, filed protective orders in Howard County District Court.

On August 2009, Tracy Hawks alleged that her husband became “extremely volatile and abusive” when he drank. Hawks said she had bruises on her arms “due to defending myself from his attacks,” court documents state.

She also alleged that her husband had threatened her with an unregistered gun.

The accusations were never proven and the request for a protective order was denied.

In another request filed in October 2009, Hawks said her husband had choked her in 2006 when angered by a high credit card bill, and that he was verbally abusive.

Leslie Hawks also requested a protective order in October, alleging that Tracy Hawks pushed him face-first into a wall.

Both orders were denied.

In a divorce filing, Leslie Hawks alleged that his wife had “harassed and humiliated him” in the presence of his son. In a separate criminal filing, he charged Tracy Hawks with stealing his credit card and accruing $18,000 of charges without his permission.

On May 25, 11 days before her suicide, the two attended a settlement conference for the divorce. According to David Titman, Leslie Hawks’ divorce lawyer, the conference went smoothly.

“There were no raised voices, there was no contentious discussions, it was all very routine,” he said. “Her suicide was a shock to both my client and myself.”

But that same day Hawks wrote an entry in her diary, which was included in the police report:

“I don’t feel that I am deserving of... love. I wish I was different or better. I am so lost,” she wrote. “I feel that my life is over. I have failed at everything. I cannot preserve anything.”

Family members, neighbors, and Melton’s special education teacher all told police Hawks and her son had a close relationship. Melton’s teacher said Hawks regarded her son as her “comforter,” the report states.

Hawks moved to Hickory Ridge in the fall of 2009 so her son could attend Atholton’s Academic Life Skills special education program, which was more tailored to his needs, the teacher told police. Before, Melton attended Mt. Hebron High School, in Ellicott City, for three years.

The teacher, who was not named in the report, told police that Melton’s attendance was “sporadic.” In the week before he died, Melton had not been in class at all, the police report states.

The teacher told police she had worked with Melton for eight years, and in that time she thought Hawks was over-protective of her son and “would not let people in her son’s life.”

The teacher told police Melton was a loving person and a good student.

“Chris was a great kid,” Mt. Hebron principal Scott Ruehl said in an interview. “He was very caring and welcoming.”

Melton’s teacher agreed.

He was the “most delightful, well-behaved child you ever knew,” the teacher told police, according to the report. “Every time someone looked at Christopher, he would smile.”