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Disability Advocates Alarmed By Parents Who Kill


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After a number of cases in recent years of parents killing their kids with disabilities, self-advocates are working to focus attention on victims rather than the stresses their caregivers face.

Members of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network say that far too often parents who kill their children with disabilities receive sympathy while little is said of the victim.

In response, the group is planning a national day of mourning this Friday. Self-advocates in a dozen cities are on board to host candlelight vigils where they will read victims’ names and draw attention to how these deaths are treated in the media and by the public.

“I’ve seen articles explicitly ask the reader to ‘put themselves in the shoes’ of the non-disabled murderer, but I’ve never seen an article ask readers to imagine what it’s like to be a disabled person murdered by someone you love and trust, like your parent,” said Zoe Gross, a member of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, who is behind the effort, which is also being backed by the National Council of Independent Living and the Autism Society, among other groups.

Gross, who lives in Oakland, Calif., was spurred to action when she heard about the case of George Hodgins, a 22-year-old with autism who was murdered March 6 by his mother at their Sunnyvale, Calif. home. Hodgins’ mother — who subsequently killed herself — was reportedly overwhelmed by her caregiving responsibilities.

Frustrated that news accounts of the Hodgins case largely disregarded the victim’s perspective, Gross organized a candlelight vigil earlier this month where participants also honored 36 others with disabilities who have been killed by their loved ones since the early 1990s.

One of the victims mentioned at the vigil was Tracy Latimer, a 12-year-old Canadian girl with cerebral palsy who was killed by her father in 1993. Coincidently, on the same day Gross held the vigil, Latimer’s father, Robert who served seven years in prison for his daughter’s murder, spoke out on Canadian television calling for the legal killing of people with disabilities.

When Gross and other members of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network learned about Robert Latimer’s comments, they were inspired to make a national push to honor victims with disabilities.

“We are sending a message that violence against disabled people is unacceptable,” said Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “We are concerned that when acts of murder occur, the folks being killed are written out of their own story. It ends up being the tragic story of the parents, which in a lot of ways legitimizes the act and allows it to occur further.”

In the Hodgins case, experts interviewed by local media emphasized the extreme stress that parents can experience when their child has a disability.

“Parents of kids with autism are under a terrific amount of stress,” Jennifer Sullivan, the executive director of a local autism center that Hodgins attended told the San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s no question these children are difficult, and these families need help.”

But other disability advocates emphasize that parents who resort to violence are outliers.

“These are tragic situations that are irrational responses to very challenging circumstances, and they need to be understood as criminal acts by desperate individuals,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “The vast majority of parents of children with disabilities never commit these crimes or resort to murder-suicide. It’s not something done by people of healthy and sound minds.”

Currently, vigils are scheduled Friday in a dozen cities including New York, Washington, Chicago, Boston, Tampa, Fla., Fort Worth, Texas and Portland, Ore., organizers said.

“This is an opportunity to say we need a healthier discussion about people with disabilities in our society,” said the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s Ne’eman.

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Comments (17 Responses)

  1. leslie rasmussen says:

    i would like to say thank you!!!!!! i am a mother of three autistic boys .

  2. Kristen says:

    I agree with the general point of the article, that there is too little attention paid to the children who are killed. But rather than get into another round of “who has it worse” (next up: parents who are killed by their out-of-control children with autism!), maybe parents and self-advocates could work together on increasing family supports (especially for kids) and independent living supports (especially for adults). Let’s think about how to be more proactive so eventually we’re not discussing who’s more deserving of the victim title, or who gets killed more by whom.

  3. Marsha Katz says:

    While ASAN and Not Dead Yet have exhibited great leadership in recognizing the real victims in these murder cases, everyone everywhere should be concerned when parents are murdering their children. Why are we horrified and outraged when parents abuse, harm, and even kill children without disabilities, yet try to rationalize the same actions and sweep the murder under the rug when the murder victims are children with disabilities? Why would we be horrified and outraged if parents mutilated their children without disabilities, yet we rationalize it and sweep it under the rug when the victims of mutilation are children with disabilities?This is blatant discrimination in its worst form, and smacks of genocide.

  4. Lela says:

    What about putting the focus on trying to get people help BEFORE it goes this far. I think it is absolutely tragic and it breaks my heart, but groups should be PROACTIVE not REACTIVE. Don’t wait til it’s happened, work to find solutions to the growing problem of proper care and support so people don’t get to this point.

  5. rochelle rawlings says:

    As the parent of 2 adult children with developmental disabilities and a provider of care for others I have to agree with Karen. The horror is not so much that a mother kills her adult child (and then herself) but that supports for families and residential care, employment, recreational and medical care are increasingly unavailable. The institutions were closed and now there is nothing but endless days at home with the television. Adult DD programs are funded by medicaid. Very few people in the general public know this.
    Every time a politician talks about cutting medicaid advocates should be howling loud and long and let the public know what is being cut. The thought of your child left without supports, medical and personal care after you die can be so horrifying that murder/suicide can seem like a better alternative.

  6. John Best says:

    ASAN causes these deaths by campaigning against curing autism. If these kids were all cured, nobody would kill them. Stop supporting Ari Ne’eman and has band of crazed psychopaths.

  7. Trance says:

    I see John Best Jr. is still legendarily incendiary.

    Parents who snap and murder their children are the ones at fault. If we would consider them as sick, horrible, and twisted as they ARE, then it would be less of a problem. If we would spam every journalist who writes these bigoted articles with mail telling them that they were encouraging potential murderers and murderesses, they wouldn’t write like that. Maybe not every parent is murderous/suicidal, but one little article could tip the ones that are close over into that territory of killer intention.

    If we would vilify the messed up killers–who don’t deserve to be called human, let alone parents– less of this would happen.

  8. Thomas Charles Wood says:

    @ John Best
    Personally I a pretty pissed off @ you. I am a person with Autism & Cerebral Palsy & I am a graduate of Wentworth Institute. I am “offended” regarding you calling Ari Ne’eman of & I “psychopaths”. Our advocating for civil rights to be who God made us to be gives us meaning & purpose to our lives. I do read, that you support “Hitlerism” (Genocide) against us persons with disabilities. to use the old British RAF term, I do award you the “M.H.O.D.F.”

  9. Ginger says:

    Heard about those folks killed off their disabled children for the sake of life insurance in this bad economy, today. Their urgency to “cash-out” from their own kids with disabilities’ life policy! Time like this is very difficult and unbearable to deal with more stress in their life of no $$$, no jobs, no decent meals and no meds. This recent news is shell-shocking to hear what folks are doing is just unthinkable & obnoxious!! Why can they send disabled kids to foster home? Or, group home? Instead of murder them and abandon all the primary cares for their own disabled child! Just to be freed from hostile with money woes, depressions and burdens. Those parents who killed should be punished for endangerment of their own disabled children in death or attempted killing. We need to enforce those innocent and vulnerable disabled children to safe haven and provide more direct emergency shelters for them. And, do mandatory home-visits to every homes that have “disabled child(ren)” to ensure safety. Instead of leaving undetectable act of negliences and abandonments. The killer parents should be held accountable for those illegal deaths and cruelty murders to their own kids with disabilities. This is so uncivilized and the justice needs to be served for saving more lives to all children from all walk of life, disabled or not. Kids need to live, not a buy-out for wrongful deaths!! It just so ungodly and unacceptable to have those folks to kill another human life. As noted under 10 Commandments, thy no kill!!!

  10. John Best says:

    Trance, It’s not the least bit incendiary to point out that people who oppose curing these horribly damaged children with autism are a large part of the problem. Instead of blaming parents who go berserk from the stress of dealing with this nightmare, we should be teaching all of them how to cure their children. That would solve the problem.
    Chelation with Alpha Lipoic Acid is the way to cure autism. Banning all thimerosal from all vaccines is the way to prevent it. That’s the information that dishonest thugs like ASAN are trying to hide from parents.

  11. Jim Halpin says:

    I have been a professional in the disability field for over 30 years – that includes 12 years of teaching an entry level course on disabilities at a Community College. I am familiar with the Latimer case and the intense polarization it caused in Canada and elsewhere. I do not believe what he did was right – ethically, morally or otherwise and I support “Not Dead Yet’s” positions on assisted suicide and other issues regarding individual rights. Here is a link to an interview done with Robert Latimer in 2011 – I will just say that it is an interesting piece worth watching and you can draw your own conclusions. tx

  12. hdemic says:

    to ginger- If every home with a disabled child is to be checked than every home with a child is to be checked. Getting a little to police state for me. to everyone else.To many foster care/group homes that get paid humangous amnts of money per month have alot of horror stories. The whole situation of caregiver without help is getting worse. You can’t even pay for help because every one is on welfare and if they make money on the side they loose thier medical. Myself I rather get angy and shout at every one than get so apathetic that you give up. no givving up. Yes I have my depressive times. Yes my child is severely handicapped no not just AUTISTIC. See I feel better all ready. I have to vent. I am not making fun. I work alot with all kinds of kids in a hospital and its going to get worse.. If there are no daycares/schools that even attempt to do thier jobs. no oversight. Together we stand-divided we fall-or is it fail.
    keep on trucking
    mom of disabled child in michigan
    PS-who exactly is disability advacates??????

  13. violetred says:

    I know I’ll get flamed for this, but the first thing that came to my mind is the number of unborn children with disabilities who are aborted. And now parents can sue for damages if they miss the opportunity to do that killing.

  14. annie says:

    As I write this, my severely disabled son is kicking my husband in the face and physically assaulting him as he tries to change his diaper… preventative measures are the key to ending these murders. Families need to be supported before things get bad enough for a psychotic breakdown to occur that can result in unforgivable murder. Things like respite, day programs, and qualified providers (my god there are some incompetent people out there working with my son) could mean the difference between sanity and murder. Blame is not that comforting to me, prevention is.

  15. Fran Fisher says:

    Parents are being overwhelmed because there is not enough help for them because budgets are being cut. If more funds were available for programs at school and art home, there would be less stress on the parents with less tragic results for the victims

  16. says:

    I have to agree with the general consensus among previous posters. There needs to be more of a focus on creating viable and sustained assistance for caregivers before these types of mental fractures occur. Burnout is a very real and dangerous phenomenon. This fact, in no way, large or small is an excuse for such an henious and repulsive act. Killing a child is a horrible crime. But unless we begin to see improvements in respite care and LTC there will remain the opportunity for stress to work it’s toll on overworked caregivers.

  17. Marty says:

    WOAH WOAH WOAH wait, so by society’s way of thinking, since my learning disability (ADHD), although small compared to autism, is still a disability, because I was on the extreme spectrum, my parents would have had the RIGHT to kill me as a child because I was too ‘overbearing’ and ‘difficult’? NO! Excuse me, but AS A DISABLED PERSON, I have -every- RIGHT to my life, and NO ONE has the right to take it away from me. ESPECIALLY not my parents. The parents that have murdered their children should be sent to prison on felony murder charges, not given a free pass because “oh, well, we feel sorry for you because your child wasn’t cookie cutter. Your child didn’t DESERVE to live, so it’s totally ok. We forgive you!” … That is the same mentality my public schools treated me with my ENTIRE life growing up. It was wrong and uncalled for then! This is even worse! No. Anyone that kills their child, regardless of the reason, deserves to be locked away for life. They are the scum of the earth.

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