Thursday, August 26, 2010

Overton, Texas: Adam Wilson, 21, stabs father, David Wayne Wilson, to death

Adam Wilson, age 21

Fear and Grief: Autism and Murder Rip East Texas Family Apart
by Dan Burns

The police found David Adam Wilson, a 21-year-old with autism, hiding in the tool shed beside his rural East Texas home. "We tried to read him his Miranda rights," Lt. Tony Dana told me in a telephone interview, "but he was extremely agitated. He didn't understand what we were saying. We terminated the interview immediately. Dad can't tell us what happened, because he's dead."

Adam Wilson is charged with murder. Normally sweet and calm, he'd reportedly been "drastically different" lately. Raging out of control on Monday, August 16, Adam threatened a family member and then begged for help. His family took him to the emergency room to have his medication adjusted. Allegedly, hours later, during an argument, he stabbed his father with a kitchen knife. The police found Mr. Wilson dead in a recliner. The prescription is still unfilled.

danburnsbenwater.JPG When I heard the story last Saturday I went packing for East Texas. I drove past Adam's house on FM 2039, a beautiful stretch of road that runs over the hills and through the piney woods between the villages of Overton and Arp. That night my 23-year-old autistic son Ben and his mom, Sue, camped and swam in the clear shady waters in Tyler State Park Lake, toes sinking in the soft lake bottom. How lucky I was to be at peace. Since Ben's diagnosis nearly two decades ago, we've been on a bumpy road towards healing. Had events taken a different turn, had we not received the help we needed, the person bleeding to death in that recliner, or hiding in that shed, alone, afraid, ashamed, and in despair, could have been me. Or Sue. Or Ben.

"Autism is literally ripping families apart in horrendous and tragic ways," said Teresa Conrick, in a comment posted in Age of Autism. "People are dying weekly -- nightmare accidents of drownings, traffic deaths, exposure to the elements, locked in a vans, inappropriate medications, psychosis, suicides and homicides." Parents killing their children. Now children killing their parents.

What's going on?

First, the incidence of autism has reached epidemic proportions. A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has increased from 1 in 10,000 in the year 2000 to 1 in 110. That's about 1 in 60 boys. But that study is based on data from 2007. Anecdotal evidence from doctors who treat autistic children put the incidence today much higher -- one in thirty or even more. Ask an elementary school teacher and you may get an eye-popping answer.

Second, autism is still classified and treated as a psychiatric disorder, so it is "treated" with psychotropic drugs such as Valium, Ritalin, Thorazine, and Haldol, which do not heal anything and too often exacerbate the symptoms, including violent aggression, which they are supposed to mask. Treated as an immunological disease like allergies and ADHD, autism is sometimes reversible. But pediatricians aren't trained in appropriate biomedical treatments, and insurance usually doesn't cover them.

Third, the face of autism is changing. Eighty percent of these ASD kids are under age 22. Within five years, half a million young adults with autism will age out of the school system and spill into communities unprepared for them. A meltdown by a four-year-old in the library or grocery store is an inconvenience. A meltdown by 21-year-old is potentially lethal.

Fourth, after decades of stress, parents are snapping. Vicki Martin, RN, has a 14-year-old daughter with autism. "In my community," she says, "most of the adults with autism live at home with their parents. Many parents feel as if they have no choice. Kids are aging out of school, their primary support system. Most don't have jobs, and vocational and day-habilitation programs are not geared toward adults with autism. So these young adults are isolated in their homes under the care of their exhausted parents, many facing their own health issues related to the stress of 24/7 care for their severely disabled kids."

Lt. Tony Dana would not release the police report to me because the District Attorney hasn't seen it yet. In due time, though, there are questions that should and must be examined more closely in the public eye:

• What medications was Adam taking, and in what combinations? Did they have the potential for psychotic side effects?
• Was he receiving appropriate biomedical and behavioral treatment?
• How about Adam's dad? Was he suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? It is almost impossible to raise an autistic child without extended family support, yet many single parents do. Adam's mom had long ago moved on.
• What was his relationship with father? With the other family members? Did they love and care for Adam?
• What kind of support was the family receiving from friends and neighbors and community services?

Adam Wilson puts a face on a social issue that's likely to get worse before it gets better. But it is also a terrible personal tragedy. "Jail might not be the best place for Adam," said Lt. Dana, "but that's where he is for now." I pray for frightened, orphaned Adam and his grieving family.

Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., is Adult Issues Liaison for AutismOne and the author of Saving Ben: A Father's Story of Autism. Burns is developing the Autism Trust USA, modeled on The Autism Trust (U.K.) and focused on the creation of new campus communities where adults with autism can work, live and improve their skills and talents in a creative and supportive environment.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tuscon, Arizona: 5 Year old boy drowns in a golf course pond

Autistic boy drowns in Tucson pond

Aug. 19, 2010 05:05 PM
Associated Press

TUCSON - A 5-year-old autistic boy has drowned in a pond at a Tucson golf course.

Authorities say the boy was pulled from the pond at the Santa Rita Golf Course on Thursday afternoon.

The victim and his family live in a home near the golf course and the boy apparently wandered away from the house sometime before 1 p.m.

The boy's father called 911 to report him missing. Pima County Sheriff's deputies arrived in the area and began searching for the boy and he was found by deputies in the golf course pond.

Deputies begin CPR on the boy until paramedics arrived. He was taken by helicopter to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The name of the victim has not been released yet.

Read more:

Houston, Texas: 2 year old Khoa Nguyen dies after being left in car while autistic brother has seizure

Toronto boy, 2, dead after being left in car in 50 C heat
Postmedia News August 19, 2010

HOUSTON — A two-year-old Toronto boy has died after being left in a blistering hot car for two hours in a suburb of Houston, Texas.

According to police officials, the toddler — identified as Khoa Nguyen — was forgotten in the vehicle when his older, autistic brother had a seizure as the family was returning from the grocery store. The family, who were visiting relatives in Houston, had gone inside with their seven-year-old son to retrieve medication, leaving the younger boy behind.

When they returned to the SUV two hours later, he was already unconscious. He was later pronounced dead at a north Houston hospital.

“On a day like today, the interior temperature (of a car) can rise almost 20 degrees,” said Det. Sgt. Ben Beall, of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. “Unless you’re found almost immediately, (there’s) a good probability you’re going to die.”

Houston police said the case will be referred to a grand jury, which will decide if charges will be laid.

The vehicle’s internal temperature was recorded at about 50 C.

Read more:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Peoria, Illinois: 22 Year old man with developmental age of a toddler beats housmate to death

Journal Star
Posted Aug 10, 2010 @ 09:08 PM

PEORIA — The attorney for a developmentally disabled man who was indicted Tuesday for allegedly beating to death a housemate last week said his client shouldn't be in jail.

"He doesn't have the mental capacity to have a criminal intent," said attorney Timothy Newlin of Joey R. Brooks, 22, who was indicted on one count of first-degree murder for the death of John Vogel. He will next appear in court Thursday to be arraigned on the charge. Until then, he remains in custody at the Peoria County Jail on $500,000 bond.

And that's what has Newlin and Brooks' parents upset. They believe this case is different than others. Newlin said his client has an IQ of 12, and the mental age of a 21/2-year-old. He's diagnosed with profound mental retardation and autism, the attorney said, reading from a 2009 report.

"He's essentially a toddler; you don't lock up toddlers," he said.

Rather, the parents, who live in Peoria County, said they believe their son should be moved.

"He should be at the Jacksonville Developmental Center with supervision and not locked up, and I agree with them completely," Newlin said.

Brooks was arrested Friday afternoon after sheriff's deputies responded to 1042 N. Emily Place, a duplex that is run by Trinity Services and houses several developmentally disabled people. There they found Vogel lying on the ground with head injuries and Brooks in another room, curled up in the fetal position.

Police believe Brooks repeatedly hit Vogel in the head after an argument with another person. A mental fitness test has been ordered, and Newlin said he doesn't believe the report is finished yet.

Brooks moved there about a year ago after spending nine years at the Hope School Learning Center in Springfield. Newlin said there is no evidence that Brooks had any problems while at that school. He did say the 22-year-old had no criminal history.

Newlin said he tried to communicate with Brooks on Sunday during a jailhouse visit and got the sense that he "did not understand" what was happening.

The attorney said his client is nonverbal and used a 20-pound Communication Assistance Device while at Trinity house. The device apparently has a key pad like interface with pictures that would allow Brooks to convey what he wants.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or

West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 12-Year-Old Boy, Frank Marasco, With Autism Killed in West Philly Fire

Frank Morasco, age 12

NBC Philadelphia
Updated 6:10 AM EDT, Mon, Aug 7, 2010

Philadelphia police say a 12-year-old autistic boy was killed in a house fire in West Philadelphia Saturday.

Investigators say the fire broke out shortly before 7 p.m. at a home located at 137 South 55th Street. The young boy was discovered in a room on the second floor of the home, according to investigators.

Firefighters were able to rescue a woman from the second floor roof. The victim was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for treatment.

The fire was placed under control around 7:30 p.m. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One of the firefighters fell through the stairway while trying to save the little boy. Both were also transported to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for treatment.

Officials say there were no working fire alarms in the home.

"We saw smoke alarms in the home. Unfortunately the smoke alarm that I found did not have the cover removed before you put it into service," Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers.

Four homes suffered damage, according to firefighters.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Fatal W. Philly fire sparks 'brownout' policy questions

Philadelphia Daily News 215-854-5218

..."A lot of things went wrong there, but the brownout isn't one of them," Ayers said. "You have to do the right thing for your family, and the key is to have an escape plan."

Neighbors said that a man who lived in the house was trying to get the 12-year-old out of the house but the boy pulled away and ran back in.

Ayers said that families should coach, and create escape plans for, people with mental and physical disabilities.

The boy's body was found on the second floor, fire officials said. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

"It was much, much too late for the boy to be saved," Ayers said.

Neighbors described Frank as a happy child who had moved onto the cozy block with his family last year.

"He was just getting used to us," said Rubye Weaver, 72, whose home also was damaged. "He was a happy young man."

Neighbors said that the boy didn't talk much and he loved playing ball on the porch or on the sidewalk with neighbors and the man who lived with him.

"He would catch the ball and kiss it," said Virginia DeShields, who lived three houses down. "He had a 'Toy Story' doll he would carry all the time. He was a very happy kid."

Fire union leaders said that the maintenance cited by Ayers normally would have been done during the afternoon, and if Engine 57 were not browned out the maintenance could have been completed before the start of the night shift.

"It's a tragedy what happened," said Local 22 trustee Mike Kane...

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.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Austintown, Ohio: Nathan Kinderdine, 7, drowns in pool at school

Nathan Kinderdine, age 7

Nathan Kinderdine, who had autism, has spent the past six weeks taking part in a summer enrichment program at the Leonard Kirtz School in Austintown.

It took less than five minutes for the Boardman 7-year-old known as a "runner" to wander away from his teachers and classmates and end up at the bottom of the school's indoor pool Tuesday.

While workers tried to revive him, Nathan later was pronounced dead at St. Elizabeth's Health Center. Now, police are trying to determine how he got into the pool and if a problem with one of its self-closing doors was the reason Nathan was able to enter that area.

"We're not rushing into it," said Austintown detective Sgt. Raynor Holmes. "We're trying to find the victim's whereabouts, and try and retrace where he went and where everything went from there. It's not the easiest thing to do, but that's what we have to look at."

A timeline in the police report shows that the doors to the pool area were locked just before noon. The last adult left the pool about ten minutes later.

About 12:35 p.m., two instructors took a group of six children into the nearby gym. One instructor first took in three kids, including Nathan because "he is a runner." The instructors then momentarily went into the hall to get three more children and, that's when they noticed Nathan was missing.

After a quick search, by 12:40 p.m. a custodian had unlocked the pool doors and found Nathan floating face down in about three and a half feet of water. The custodian jumped in to get him, and the boy was taken to the school's clinic, where nurses performed CPR.

After the incident, an officer fully opened a door leading from the boys' restroom into the pool 10 times. The door is supposed to lock from the outside whenever it closes. That door closed and locked, like it's supposed to, only once.

Officials with Leonard Kirtz are doing everything they can to find out what happened as well.

"We're waiting on the coroner, and Austintown Police Department report to see what they believe was the cause and the time frame involved," said Superintendent Larry Duck. "From there we'll try to look at what needs to be done to prevent this from ever happening again."

Linda Finlay's son, 13-year-old Joshua Finlay, attended the same program as Nathan. While the Salem resident attends West Branch Middle School, autistic children are required to participate in summer programs, Finlay said.

Finlay said she knew something was wrong when Joshua came home with a letter from the school Wednesday that stated the week would continue as scheduled, but there was an incident that involved a student in the swimming pool.

"It's really bad," Finlay said. "I was up all night crying. I feel really bad for the parents."

She said Joshua understood what happened at his school Tuesday. His reaction surprised her, she added.

"He was really shocked," Finlay said. "He said, 'this is a really tragic thing that happened'."

Finlay said she gave her son a choice on whether to attend school Wednesday. He decided to go, she said, but left after lunch.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Langhorne, Pennsylvania: Felony charges filed in heat death of Bryan Nevins

By Larry King

Bucks County prosecutors this afternoon filed felony neglect charges against a suspended Woods Services counselor in the July 25 heat-related death of Bryan Nevins, a severely autistic resident of the facility in Langhorne.

Stacey J. Strauss, 40, of Philadelphia, was charged with neglect of a care-dependent person, involuntary manslaughter and recklessly endangering another person after allegedly leaving Nevins, 20, in a parked van outside Woods Services on a day of record heat.

Nevins was found dead five hours after returning from a field trip to Sesame Place. His parents, who live in New York, have said their son had the mental ability of a two-year-old. Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler has said that Nevins would have been unable to operate the door handles of the van because of his severe autism.

Nevins and his twin brother, who also is autistic, had lived at Woods Services for years, his parents have said. They withdrew the other brother after Bryan Nevins' death. The men's father, retired New York City homicide detective William Nevins, told the Associated Press last week that he believed his son died because of one person's neglect.

Investigators agreed with that assessment.

"Mr. Nevins' death was not simply a tragic accident," said a statement issued by Heckler and Middletown Township Acting Public Safety Director Patrick McGinty. "Rather, his death resulted from the criminal failure of the defendant to discharge her assigned responsibilities."

The charges allege that Strauss and another Woods Services worker took Nevins and three other clients in a van to Sesame Place, near the Oxford Valley Mall. Nevins inexplicably was left behind in the van after their return to the facility around noon.

"It is undisputed that ... Mr. Nevins was not escorted from the van, nor was he returned to the residence by Ms. Strauss as was her responsibility," the statement said. "Instead, he was left in the van on one of the hottest days of this terribly hot summer."

It has been estimated that the temperature inside the van reached as high as 150 degrees, and that Nevins died within an hour of being left there. Bucks County Coroner Joseph Campbell determined that Nevins died of hyperthermia, and that the death was accidental.

The death came one year after 2-year-old Daniel Slutsky died of hyperthermia after being accidentally left in the back of a van outside a day-care center in Penndel, Bucks County.

Then-District Attorney Michelle Henry filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Rimma Shvartsman, a neighbor of the toddler's family who operated the center and had driven the boy there. A Bucks County Court jury found her not guilty of all charges in March.

The neglect charge against Strauss, a first-degree felony, is more severe. It carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

Prosecutors said police had notified Strauss's attorney of the charges, and that she has been directed to surrender to Middletown Township authorities.