PHILADELPHIA — Walking in Cobbs Creek Park on Friday night, Fitzroy Anderson watched as a herd of deer ran down a grassy hill. It would make a nice picture, he thought. So he followed them.

By the time he made it down the hill, the deer had darted into the woods. But he lingered there, puzzled by what lay in front of him: an empty wheelchair and a Bible. And underneath it, something wrapped in a blanket.

“Wrapped up real nice and decent,” he said.

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Carefully, Anderson nudged the blanket with his foot.

Beneath it, someone moved.

That someone was Daequan Norman, who had been missing for five days. Norman, 21, has cerebral palsy and quadriplegia and is nonverbal. He was unable to tell police how he had ended up in the woods.

Investigators soon figured it out.

Norman, who attends the School of the Future in West Philadelphia, had missed school since April 6, and a family member had called police.

Over the weekend, police filed an arrest warrant for Norman’s mother, Nyia Parler, 41, charging her with attempted murder and related offenses.

Police say she abandoned Norman in the park and went to visit her boyfriend in Montgomery County, Md.

The case shocked the city and made headlines around the country. Those who knew Parler were equally stunned.

On her West Philadelphia street Monday, a neighbor remembered her as a caring mother who doted on her two sons.

“I don’t know what brought her to the brink,” Oscar Robinson said in disbelief. “It seemed like she was carrying her weight.”

Before Norman was rescued and Parler was charged, her family was already worried.

Norman hadn’t shown up at school since the day his mother left to visit her boyfriend. One family member texted Parler with the family’s concerns.

“We’re OK,” she replied, according to police reports.

And by Parler’s own account, the visit with her boyfriend was going well.

“I’m so happy,” she wrote underneath a Facebook photo posted Tuesday, the day after Norman had been left to fend for himself.

“How the hell you happy?!?” a friend posted later that day. “Call me!”

Parler’s sister contacted police. Philadelphia investigators asked police in Maryland to check on Parler at her boyfriend’s house.

They dropped by Friday night.

Parler insisted to the officers, over and over again, that she had left her son with the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia. She said she had dropped him off in the lobby at a DHS office, said Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives.

After a while, she dropped that story, Walker said.

She told the officers she left her son in the park. She covered him with a blanket. Then she left for Maryland.

Parler, who also faces charges of aggravated assault, kidnapping, neglect and unlawful restraint, has not yet been formally arrested, Walker said. On Monday evening, she remained in a Maryland hospital, suffering from an undisclosed ailment.

Investigators served a search warrant on her house Monday afternoon. Walker said police were trying to work out care for her son, who is at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recovering from dehydration and malnutrition.

They are also working with DHS to set up care for Parler’s 16-year-old son, he said.

Parler’s family members, some of whom sat outside her house as police searched it Monday afternoon, declined to comment.

Robinson, the neighbor who lives down the street, said Parler had lived on the block a few years and seemed like a “fine, fit mother.”

Her two sons were clean, and Norman seemed content.

“He responded to her,” Robinson said. “The side that I’ve seen was a loving, caring mother.”

She met Norman at his bus stop each day, Robinson said, and sold dinners around the neighborhood to raise money to send one of her sons — Robinson wasn’t sure which — to prom.

School of the Future principal Richard Sherin said his teachers had visited Norman at Children’s over the weekend.

“He’s a great young man,” he said. “We’re looking forward to having him return to school.”

Anderson, the man who stumbled upon Norman in the woods, said he hoped to pay a visit, too. To see his face. To pay his respects.

“To explain to him,” he said, “that I’m the guy who found him.”

© 2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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