Katie McCarron, Charles-Antoine Blais, real children, real people.

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In November of 1996, I was living in an institution in which a doctor explicitly told me that he wanted to kill the person I was and replace me with someone else, and that he was going to, psychologically, do exactly that to me. I was totally unaware of things like the Oklahoma City Bombings. I found out who Timothy McVeigh was by accident two years ago by finding a taped news broadcast among a pile of my parents’ videotapes I was sorting. I was very out of touch with what was going on in the outside world.

I did not know about Autism Network International, either, although it had been around for awhile by then, and put on its first conference right around the time a guy died in the facility I was in and the same doctor was telling me that his death didn’t matter. I, of course, didn’t hear about ANI until later. Dr. Brainwash wasn’t exactly going to be thrilled with the notion of autistic people being valuable as ourselves.

Another person I hadn’t heard of was Charles-Antoine Blais. Charles-Antoine Blais was a seven-year-old autistic boy in Canada. His mother took him into the bathroom, filled the tub, and then held Charles-Antoine’s head under until he drowned.

The St. John’s autism list had a long discussion about him, back then. A very long discussion. In which a woman was castigated for “forcing her opinion down people’s throats” for stating the opinion twice, in a thread with dozens of messages, that she sympathized with the autistic boy and not his mother. Some people even questioned whether she could really be the parent of an autistic child if she did not sympathize with a murderer. Some people accused her of having less empathy than an autistic person (which is supposedly, in myth, very little), and many people treated her like she was doing something awful.

This is what that mother, Tanya Stewart, said:

I want you to imagine this from the childs point of view for a moment. A scared little boy, being taken into the bathroom as mom fills the tub. Mom grabs him and forces his little head under the water. We are talking about an older child here, so he was able to put up a pretty good fight. I would say she had plenty of time to realize what she was doing and stop. How could she continue after seeing his terrified face and feeling him fight for his life?

I am really surprised at the number of you who choose to have compassion for her and not for the innocent child.

The discussion had all the elements that still happen today: Most people sympathizing with or in some way explaining or excusing the murderer. A small number of people openly opposing the murder. A slightly larger number of people practicing a feigned neutrality that ends up acting as if it sides with the majority.

But there was one quote that I wanted to repeat right now, by Mark Painter, further on in the thread:

For myself, I’d like to know what his name was. I’d like to know what he looked like. Was he echoalic? Did he imitate his mother’s every move at the dining room table? Did he flap his hands excitedly, run to the TV set, and giggle whenever they rolled the credits at the end of the program? Did he put all the other little boys in the neighborhood to shame when he climbed the jungle gym at the playground? Was he a ravenous devourer of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese? Did high-pitched sounds make him put his hands over his ears and cry? Did he own a pair of “Bert and Ernie” sneakers that he loved so much he took them to bed with him every night?

Alas, we will never know these things. Too many people think it’s more important to emphasize how miserable his mother was. OK, maybe she had it rough. But I don’t buy the argument that since she went further than any of us would, she must have had it worse than any of us. I’ll bet there are parents on this list who have been through far worse, and yet found it in their hearts to spare their child’s life.

“Don’t judge” is good spiritual advice. But the fact remains that this woman must now be judged under Canadian law. Those of you who are hoping she gets off easier than, say, Susan Smith (to use an example previously cited in this thread), are hoping, whether you realize this or not, that the law will formally recognize the proposition that the life of an autistic child is less valuable than the life of a nonautistic child. (A few of you have come perilously close to openly proclaiming this principle right here on this list.) This is not good for your own children. It is not even good for you.

This strongly resembles something I said in my memorial post to Katie McCarron:

I wonder if you would have liked any of the same things I’ve liked at different times in my life: Trees, books, marbles, blocks, staring sideways at the carpet, playing with my hair, running, stars, flat surfaces, taking walks, staring at everything upside-down, cats, rubbing fuzzy things on my face, getting pine nuts out of pine cones, picking blackberries, having mischievous but loving older brothers, light switches, sparkly sidewalks, rocks from the moon, typewriters, sliding tape measures, and prisms.

I thought, given that the newspapers were not reporting anything about who she was, that we would never know. Her grandfather, Mike McCarron, was strong enough to come forward in the midst of all this and stand up for her value, stand up for her being recognized as a person. That was something many of the people I knew in institutions did not have. That was something that Charles-Antoine Blais did not have. But Mike McCarron has told us more about Katie than I’d ever hoped to know:

I would like to say something about Katie. Some newspapers have reported that this was done to end Katie’s pain; let me assure you that “Katie was not in pain”. She was a beautiful, precious and happy little girl. Each day she was showered with love and returned that love with hugs, kisses and laughter. Katie loved music; she would fill in some of the words in children’s songs as my wife would sing along with the CD that would be playing, their own version of “karaoke” . She liked to dance, she loved to do the “hooky poky”. She loved being in among flowers and tall grass. She would say “I like grass”. She enjoyed the zoo and because of all of the drills and flashcards she could identify the animals. Which I thought was pretty amazing for such a young child. She was also the only little child in her non-autistic play group that could identify an octagon. My wife and son had a party for her the day they heard that from the teacher.

She enjoyed having her grandmother dress her in new little outfits and dresses, and I think this is important. We have four grand-daughters, my wife loves to buy them frilly little dresses. When my wife went into a store she would never ask for three normal dresses and one autistic dress. I think we need to be very sensitive to the special needs of these children but at the same time not be oblivious to the numerous typical traits that are also developing. Katie was first and foremost a little girl, she enjoyed people making a big fuss over how pretty she looked. My wife would take her to the beauty shop to have her hair trimmed. Katie enjoyed going to the mall and looking in all of the stores and windows. These are female things.

She went to special schools everyday, the staff at those schools cherished her. I can not say enough for the staff at Mariposa. They were so very much more than professional therapists, they adopted her and loved her deeply. Katie was so lucky to be with them everyday.

There is also another young lady in North Carolina who worked with Katie during non-school hours. The bond that she had with Katie was unbelievably deep. I am amazed that a single Mom working to raise a son by herself could find so much extra love. Maybe love is one of those special resources, the more you give the more is given back.

Katie loved the park, the swings, the slides and being outside. She played with her dolls and toys; she loved “teletubbies” and brought joy to all of those that had actual contact with her. Yes, she was autistic. Developmentally she was behind other children. But her small victories would create unbelievable joy for those who loved her. I can not describe the ecstasy of having her little arms around my neck or of watching her and my son roll around on the floor playing in shear happiness.

Each day I ask the Lord if I could take her place, and perhaps He could return Katie to the loving arms of my son and my wife. So far that prayer has not been granted. But in the meantime I can assure you that no one will describe her murder as “understandable” or devalue her in anyway without my personal challenge to them and the organizations they represent.

I put pictures of myself at Katie’s age in my memorial post, because there were no pictures of Katie out there, but now I have found out otherwise from Mike McCarron.

He has given people permission to use photographs of Katie, but only if they are not used in any way to lament the “lack of services” that some people blame for her death, and only if they are not used to call her a burden or paint her death as “understandable” or anything remotely close to that. Not Dead Yet, an organization that works against the idea that killing disabled people is understandable, has posted about the terms of usage of these photos on their Photos of Katie McCarron page, where the full-size photographs are also available.

A little girl standing in front of a lake, smiling, holding someone's hand

A little girl pushing a stroller with a doll in it

A little girl playing with a teletubbies doll

Those are images of Katie McCarron.

They are images of a little girl.

They are images of a human being.

They are images of a person.

Standing up for the value of lives like ours — Katie’s, mine, and many others — can be exhausting. The level of biting hostility we get in response to saying “Murder is wrong” is astounding. But the next time I think of giving up, I am going to think of Katie and her grandfather Mike McCarron who is standing up for her, under pressure and amidst publicity, even at the same time that he is mourning a cherished granddaughter.

I am a Quaker. Quakers do not take vows or oaths. But we do speak as honestly as we can manage about what we will and will not do.

I will remember Katie. I will remember Charles-Antoine, who the world never got the chance to hear about except in pathologized terms. I will remember Jeff, Stephanie, David, Vanesa, and all the other people I left in institutions, some living, some dead, most without anyone to stand up for their value as the real people I knew them as. I will remember them with love. I will remember them with value. I will do my best to convey the fact that murdering anyone, including one of us, is an act of desecration that turns far, far, far away from love; it is taking all the beauty that goes into a person away from us forever. I will celebrate who we are and have been, and mourn who some of us will never get to become. And, like Mike McCarron, I will stand up to anyone who says otherwise in my presence. I will do all these things, not for the hatred that some accuse us of, but for the love and value of all kinds of people, those I have known and those I have not.

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23 responses »

  1. This is an extraordinarily touching tribute, Amanda. With deepest thanks for all you do and deep appreciation for the stunning truth of your writing — HJ.

    Please also allow me to convey my deepest condolences to Mr McCarron and his family. The Beauty of Katie shall never be forgotten — not ever.
    In Peace, HJ.

  2. Thank you Amanda. I hope that I too, will take strength, and stand up for people and their humanity, no matter what.

  3. I also thank you. It’s a strong reminder of the origins of my entry into the work I do. I was a frequent poster on bit.listserv.autism in those days, although I only managed one on that particular thread.

    It was largely my experiences and the murders discussed on that list that led to my work with Not Dead Yet. Charles-Antoine was part of it, but there was also the murder of Tracy Latimer, a 12-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was killed by her father.

    Pro-euthanasia groups “adopted” Tracy Latimer’s father as a “poster” child for their movement (in case anyone wonders where pro-euthanasia groups are willing to go). Marilyn Seguin, the leader of one of the Canadian groups, was quoted in the NY Times saying Tracy’s father shouldn’t serve prison time because he and his wife “had already served a sentence” – of 12 years.

    I went back and read the thread. It brought back some really good memories as well as bad ones. I was sitting in the Blackmore office/computer room when Avi Blackmore composed several of his messages in that thread. Not too surprising – the Blackmore house was my “adopted home” for several years when I was in Syracuse.

    Thank you again – I have managed not to look back too much on those days lately. I think that’s a mistake.

  4. What Miss B. said. Amen, etc. Murder is murder, even if the victim is weird and strange.

    But what if the victim is not good-lookin’, say old and decrepit, or born with a non-pretty face?

    I and the law think that’s murder, too. I mean, what if she had not been such a cute kid? Plain-lookin’, or even ugly folks have a right to life, too. As do we all.

  5. Incidentally, Katie McCarron looks absolutely lovely, and so unlike the stereotype of autistic children as unresponsive and so on. I wonder, if her mother had actually lived with her child, whether she would have done what she did?

    Incidentally, Mike McCarron is Kate’s grandfather? Does anyone know what Kate’s father has said?

  6. Definitely, Justthisguy.

    Katie had a family member who is willing to stick up for her, which is more than a lot of people have. She was very young, and very conventionally cute, too, which is also more than a lot of people have.

    I’m too old to be cute, some people even go so far as to say ugly or grotesque, and I had a lot more “behavior problems” than it sounds like Katie did, so I’m quite aware a murder of someone like me would be considered more okay, and shouldn’t be.

  7. Thank you for this eloquent and heartbreaking post. Your words continue to move me.

    “I will do all these things, not for the hatred that some accuse us of, but for the love and value of all kinds of people, those I have known and those I have not.”

    This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

    best,
    lisa

  8. Thank you very much for posting this. I cannot even fathom why someone would ever do this to thier own child, and with Autism as an excuse. Children are children, and should be loved and cherished, not destroyed.

  9. You have given us a gift with your beautifully written tribute to Katie. As a mom of 3 ASD boys, I wouldn’t change a thing about them! Their unique outlook and gracious attitude is a blessing everyday. The focus should be on Katie and the life cut short, not the mother’s weakness.

  10. “…too old to be cute…”. Miss B. says that, and she’s not yet 30 years old, as far as I know.

    Now, *I* am too old to be cute, being male, having spent more than 50 years on this planet since birth, and drunk too much beer while doing so, which seems to have given me a non-cute amount of fat around my middle.

    Cute is as cute thinks. Cute means “acute”, or “sharp”, anyway.

    I think that Miss B. is pretty sharp.

  11. In the autism world, “too old to be cute” tends to start at around age 13 or so. That’s, at least, when people started pathologizing more and more things that had been previously “cute” in my life, and giving me less leeway than is given for the perceived attractiveness of younger childhood.

    So, yes, too old to be cute. The dynamic starts fairly young. I didn’t claim to be old. :-) (But I am fat around the middle, no beer to blame it on though.) I do look a lot younger than my age, but I still look too old to get the leeway given to children.

  12. Thank you for that article, I stumbled across some websites this morning with articles written by autistics. I never realised that autistic people could communicate. The impression I got from what I’ve read in the media was of people unable to think and without any understanding of the world. I was quite shocked to hear from people who are a hell of a lot more intelligent and literate than most.
    What suprised me was the fact that I never hear these voices in the mainstream. The only people you hear from are relatives or medical professionals. I assumed that this was because such people couldnt speak for themselves. I am embarrassed at how wrong I was.
    Does the media purposely silence the voices of autistics or is there just the assumption that parents and medical professionals know best?
    It must be so infuriating to have people constantly claiming to speak on your behalf.
    Perhaps my ignorance goes a long way toward explaining societies attitude toward the murder of those who are different, most people are ignorant and have little knowledge of autistic people.
    Our opinions are formed by the information we are exposed to by the media, however unconciously we have picked it up.
    Thankfully, we have the internet!! Best wishes,emily.

  13. Ok. Not sure how to put this…
    I murdered my child. I don’t know if my child was autistic or not. Nuerological disabilities run in my family, but this had no bearing on what I did.
    I murdered my child because I was fifteen and the child’s existence would have ruined my plans. I will not go to prison like the parents of those kids. But my kid never got a chance at life. Nobody will know whether my kid would have liked pretty lights or cats or Bert and Ernie shoes or climbing because my kid never got to experience any of that stuff. Noody will know what my kid would have looked like, or even their gender. My kid never even got to be born.

    I could give you a longer list of reasons why I did it.But that would be giving excuses for murder. Which I don’t want to do. They are no better or worse than using autism as an excuse. Murder is murder and no excuse is valid.

    But just because I did an evil thing doesn’t mean my life has lost its value. I am still capable of doing some good in the world. I did an evil thing, but I will not let that one deed dictate the whole of the rest of my life. I will not stick an “evil” label round my neck and decide I am incapable of good.

    I believe it’s understandable that those parents murdered their kids. Not because of autism. Because I believe everyone is capable of muder. Because all cruelty is essentially saying “I would rather hurt someone than be put out.” Killing another person is just the most extreme form of that attitude. Everyone has that attitude. It can be as small as a hurtful word or as big as a genocide. But it;a always the same attitude. And that’s why I can’t judge those women, why I ca’t judeg dicatators who kill milloins of people. Becuase we are all the same.

  14. I want to say I agree very much that a person who has murdered someone retains their value as a human being. I think it is horrible that people who do all kinds of things are branded for life for it.

    Another example I can think of is child molestation. I was molested as a child. I now have a completely good relationship with one of the people who did it, because he truly reformed. Another person who did it has not reformed but I retain a cordial relationship with him because there are other aspects to him besides that one really horrible one. This does not take away from them having done something awful, but doing something awful is not everything there is to them.

    I do think there is a real tendency to dehumanize people who have done terrible things, and I think that tendency to dehumanize only perpetuates the terrible things that are done. It makes it seem like no matter what they do for the rest of their lives, they are wholly evil because they have done something that is evil.

    And I don’t think most people understand evil, or the fact that the capacity for evil exists in all of us, or the situational factors that can bring out that evil.

    And I think there are points where people are between a rock and a hard place and killing someone might be the best of several horrible options, even while it is still always an act of evil that seriously damages the mind of the person who does it as well as everyone affected by it.

    And as a Christian (skip over this if you’re not interested in a quick jaunt into theology-land) I believe that all of us are sinners and capable of evil and that on some level all sin is equally awful in the eyes of God, but at the same time that all people should on some level be forgiven.

    At the same time, while I believe just about everyone has the capacity to murder, clearly most people do not act on it. Most of us have something that holds us back from doing it in anything but the most dire circumstances (such as killing someone in self-defense or to protect another, or after being trained to kill as a soldier, etc). Most of us would not do it because the existence of someone else inconvenienced us.

    And I think there’s a difference between acting on that potential and not acting on that potential. From what I’ve heard from people who have killed people (I haven’t done so myself), it very much changes some fundamental parts of the person’s mind. There’s a barrier that has been crossed and when the person does so, they know that they have potential to cross it again that they have to always be on guard about. While I would never say that I have experienced that on the level a murderer would, I have experienced a lesser version on the level that a violent person would. I have to be always on guard against doing those things in a way I would not have to be on guard had I never done them.

    The fact that most people do not do those things means not all people are the same in this respect.

    And while I don’t think that the prison and “justice” systems are a good answer to these sorts of things — in fact I believe they perpetuate them — I also know that when ethical and moral judgement on these things does happen it has to happen across the board, not just as applied to situations where the murder victim is white, non-disabled, middle-class, law-abiding, male, straight, and Christian. (Which is, by the way, why I don’t support the death penalty — I don’t believe that people forfeit their value as human beings by murdering people.)

    And because of that, when lesser sentences are handed out to people who murder disabled children, and the murders are used to champion various causes (other than the cause of equality of disabled people or something), then that is a different kind of judgement going on. It’s not a judgement of the murderer. It’s a judgement of the murder victim. Just as when people don’t look too hard for mass murderers of prostitutes, or support the death penalty for certain kinds of criminals, or care about shootings in middle-class predominantly-white schools but don’t care about poor children of color killing each other. In all of these cases the judgement going on is a judgement of the victims as less real and less human and less worthy of being alive.

    And when murders of some kind of people are judged to be understandable, then that is another kind of judgement of the murder victims.

    So I agree with you on some points, but I don’t think it helps to claim these killings are understandable. I do think it’s important to remember that people who kill are indeed people, as are all people who do wrong (and that all people are on one level or another people who do wrong). And I also think it’s important to remember that we all have the capacity to do tremendous wrong, because we can’t avoid doing it if we don’t believe we’re capable of it. But I think it’s important, for the sake of those who end up dead because of these things, to take a strong stance that it’s wrong when people do make that choice, regardless of what kind of person the victim was. And to save the “understandable” stuff for some other time and place, because I don’t think this is it. That stuff actually (this has been studied) makes people less able to overcome their impulses to kill and abuse.

    It’s also important to note that fifteen is about the upper limit of the age range in which a person when pushed to a certain point does not possess certain hardwired neurological barriers against extreme violence or murder. Someone that age or younger who has done those things is not, neurologically speaking anyway, doing the same thing as the act of someone whose brain has fully formed that barrier. This doesn’t excuse it either, but it’s not the same thing going on as what happens in the minds of adults who murder. What is important, though, overall, is maintaining that barrier if it already exists and rebuilding it if one has already crossed it and knocked it over in the process.

  15. When I said understandable, I did not mean ok or excusable. I meant that no-one should think they are too good to do stuff like that, or that somoene who has done it is irredemable.

  16. That makes sense, but it’s a word that is unfortunately very easy to misconstrue as condoning something, and many people will read it that way. Which is why I prefer the more precise definition you gave, that people who do it are not irredeemable and that people all have the capacity for evil.

  17. I came to this entry again, after following a link on the home page indicating that there were some recent comments made here. Even though a lot of time has passed since the events which inspired it have occurred, (and while it would be nice to read this now and be able to say “that was the past” – we can’t), it hasn’t lost any of its meaning or poignancy. Once again, I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes watering up. And while the powerful and positive message here hasn’t lost any of its relevance or impact, I would like to point out that the sting of hearing how some people excuse and justify these murders has lost some of its sharpness. While events such as these sometimes bring out the worst in people, they also bring out the best in people, as shown here, and that goodness reverberates further and far longer. It gives me hope. This posting, and comments which ensued, highlight everything I love about this community I stumbled upon long ago, which I am privileged and humbled to be a part of.

  18. Pingback: In Gedenken an Katie McCarron - Autismus-Kultur

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