Thursday, September 5, 2013

Walk In Their Shoes: Attempted Murder of Autistics: Issy Stapleton

It is becoming sort of a sideline, and an unwanted one, for me to post blog entries about murders and attempted murders. It is emotionally exhausting on a number of levels. I need to do it, though, to counter the way-too-many people who legitimate the murder attempts/murders by pointing out the "defects" of the victim. The defense of the murderer often unwittingly (I think) starts with the very news reports that announce the crime.
This time, it is 14-year-old Issy Stapleton, whose mother tried to kill them both with carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Traverse City Record Eagle Charges loom for Benzie woman in murder-suicide attempt

The article's first sentence blames everyone and everything but the person who attempted the murder, mostly "lack of services" and the victim, especially if the victim was seen as aggressive or "severely impaired:"

"A Benzie County woman who for years desperately battled insurance companies and bureaucrats to secure help for her acutely autistic, physically abusive daughter could face charges of trying to kill the girl in a failed murder-suicide attempt." 

Every time another murder or attempt happens, the Autistic and ally "regulars," like me, write blog posts condemning the murder/attempted murder, and taking those to task who sympathize with murderers and would-be murderers.

And, every time, the other "regulars," people who side with the murderer/suspect/perpetrator, come out in droves and say things like:

"If you have not walked a mile in the murderer's shoes, don't talk." Well, I am talking. And, I won't walk in your shoes to do it.

When someone kills another person robbing a 7-11, no one says "Walk a mile in his shoes; he was really broke-lack of services." When someone drives while intoxicated and kills a carload of teenagers, no one says "Walk a mile in her shoes; she was drinking because she couldn't get into the treatment center-lack of services." When someone who is living in abject poverty kills another person, no one is there saying "Walk a mile in the destitute person's shoes-lack of services." Nope. They slap the person with a murder or manslaughter (in the case of the drunk driver) charge, have a trial, find the person guilty (if that can be ascertained from the evidence), and assign a sentence. No one finds it necessary to defend people who murder because they are poor, stoned, broke, or in other difficult situations. And they certainly don't blame the victim. And they don't ask you to walk in the murderer's shoes. And they don't tell you to shut up if you won't.

But, if the deceased or almost-deceased person has a disability, defenders crawl out of the woodwork from all over. Those people are defending, and because defending, condoning murder of Autistics and other people with disabilities. 

Sensationalized media reports and "documentaries" touted by the mainstream press don't help reduce murder rates of disabled people. Defending the murderer does not help reduce the murder rates of disabled people. Threatening that more of us will be killed if  the person doesn't get "services" (including way-out-in-left-field services like chelation and bleach enemas) does not help reduce murder statistics. If someone wants to get improved services and assistance and help for themselves and others, murdering someone and then sensationalizing it is not going to work. People read the "tragic" stories and then get on with their lives. I have yet to see one bit of legislation introduced or passed to improve service delivery because a disabled person with was murdered, especially when the victim is blamed or even written out of the story.

Two reasons for fullest sentence possible: 1. A child's life was almost taken 2. Prevention of copycat murder concerns due to media and comments by "supporters of K. Stapleton (and D. Spourdalakis)." 

If you are concerned that you or someone else might murder or commit violence against a family member:

Use the services that are available. Actually DO use them. If you feel like you are at your wits' end, call someone. Yes, your child might be taken from you. The child might also be returned after a short period of time. Foster care workers can step in. Social services can help, at times. It's not great, and it is admitting that you are overwhelmed, but it's better than the child's life being stolen from them. Autism does not "steal" children. Murder definitely does.  
I won't walk in your shoes.

Issy Stapleton

This blog post was discussed on Michigan's Mom's alleged attempt to murder autistic teen prompts national, Kalamazoo response. The article talks about those who do the "don't judge until you have walked in their shoes" thing, and then goes on to give our point of view: "But national advocates for autistic adults have a different point of view: Autism is no excuse for murder." There is a fairly extensive discussion and quotes from this blog entry. I am heartened to see, in the midst of the anguish that yet another murder/attempted murder has caused my community, that someone in the media is listening to us and taking us seriously.  This article is much more balanced and appropriate than CBS's misguided approach to the murder of Alex Spourdalakis.

The Facebook vigil in memory of Alex Spourdalakis has been updated and will be ongoing. Issy's name has been added. You may join this site *if* you agree to the posting rules. Any posts not in accordance with the posting rules are removed immediately.

Autistic Community Vigil in Memory of Alex Spourdalakis, Murder Attempt on Issy Stapleton, and All Those Murdered Because They Are Disabled


UPDATE (Sept. 2013): There will be a live chat on the attempted murder of Isabelle Stapleton, on MLive, which has been doing an excellent job of covering the news on  this issue. The chat will be Tuesday September 10, 2013 at noon East Coast time. The chat will be entirely text-based. You can access the chat here:
Issy Stapleton case prompts live chat Tuesday with autism parent, advocate

I actually do feel something (other than disgust) for this person who made such an awful choice.* If the (mostly) parent community swiftly condemned her actions and did not ask "us" to modify our stance because the victim was no picnic to live with, that would leave me some room to feel a modicum of perhaps head-shaking sorrow, or to use some of that empathy that non-autistics say they have to think about this parent spending the rest of her life in jail. But because of the insistence by countless (mostly) parents that we excuse murder and murder attempts, or silence ourselves because we have not lived that parent's life, I am not able to write about that publicly and maintain my responsibility to my community-people with disabilities who are in harm's way more often than not. My responsibility to my Autistic and disabled community does not preclude compassion for those who have made mistakes. But when an large part of the "autism community," including the media, "Who Killed"- type conspiracy movies, privileged appearances on mainstream TV, insists that we are to blame for our concern for the life of a child, I can't partipate in the "outpouring of compassion"- for the aggressor. When autism is called a "jail" but the car filled with charcoal burners is not also likened to a jail?: I don't have a choice but to stand on the side of those disabled people, and (some) parents, who insist that justice be harsh.  

*This does not mean I understand why she did it, that I can put myself "in her shoes" and imagine murdering a child (I can't. At all.). It does mean I can feel sorrow that someone has done something like that and ruined many lives including their own.

Live coverage of sentencing case for K. Stapleton is here. The live coverage is posts and tweets from M-Live personnel allowed to comment. Live Coverage: Kelli Stapleton faces sentencing in attempt to kill autistic daughter


Brenda Rothman (Mama Be Good) said...



im gettuing tired of this creations getting off for killing or theartheng anyone with a disabilty it disqusting an wrong i have autism an learing disabilty an as bad as i was at times .my parents never felt like io was a burden or anything

babybloodheart said...

I made the mistake of visiting the Facebook page set-up to support the mother - obviously it's as you expect, a lot of support of the mother who attempted to murder her child, and anti-autism talk. Like many other autistic people I find it terrifying that so many people think if your child is challenging it's okay to kill them, and that being autistic means our lives are worth so much less than that of neurotypical people.

Robyn said...

You put it perfectly. I am a mother of two children on the spectrum, and one NT child in the middle. Times have been very hard, but never so bad that I would even fathom the thought of killing my child. Even when my child has pushed me down the stairs and broken three of my teeth with his head. Kelli was a coward, selfish and clearly not thinking of her family as a whole. Her husband is a Principal, her son on the football team and an she had additional daughter, as well. A mother should be their child's biggest advocate. This woman essentially watched her daughter breathe in the smoke and suffer. I commented on that "support" page and said that it was premeditated and my comment was removed. I was told "just because she purchased a grill and lit it in the vehicle, does not make it premeditated." WHAT?? Nonsense. How do you not think, (even if after the grill is lit) wow, what am I doing, what was I thinking?! Issy was intelligent, so what was she told y her mother as the van filled with smoke; lets make smores? This is an outrage. I have been denied SEVERAL services for my children, they are both still living. I cried, I screamed, and fought some more. My children are still alive.

dontgiveahoot said...

Thank you, Robyn. As an autistic person with a mentally impaired (and in her adolescence, extremely psychologically disturbed) sister whose family received no support services, I'm glad to see someone else who has 'walked a mile in Kelli's shoes' is pointing out that hey, attempted murder is still attempted murder. It's okay, I think, to sympathise with how desperate she felt while pointing out that her response to those feelings still makes her an attempted murderer. Note that the facebook support page specifically asks for prayers for Kelli (the attacker) first, and Issy (her victim) second. Why is it so wrong for autistic people to want an attempted murder of one of our own to be punished and the murderer not coddled? Not 'denied the psychiatric treatment she so obviously needs', but not coddled and made out to be the true victim of it all either.

dontgiveahoot said...

Thank you, Robyn. As an autistic person with a sister who is mentally impaired (and in her adolescence, EXTREMELY psychologically damaged as well) I'm glad that someone else who has 'walked a mile in Kelli's shoes' is pointing out that no, murder-suicide was not the only option and that despite what that facebook page would have you believe, Kelli isn't the victim here. Attempted murder is still attempted murder. I can sympathise with the fact that Kelli felt desperate. Truly, I can. I and my parents lived that desperation. But as the article says, poor people and addicts also feel desperate and lack services, and nobody asks everyone to walk a mile in their shoes. And everyone is making this about Kelli and her feelings and welfare and how hard it must be on her. Nobody seems to care that this attack could have a permanent effect on Issy's health. Do we need more disability services? Hell yes. Were Issy and Kelli denied support they needed? Obviously. Is Kelli the victim? No.

Meriah said...

Thank you for writing this.

Blasphemous Homemaker said...

I have a 3 inch scar on my arm where my autistic sister attacked me. That's not an excuse for murder. Ever. But, I think it is okay to also feel a little sorry for someone who probably experienced symptoms of PTSD by living with hopelessness and despair for years on end. I don't think it is right to let someone off the hook, but I also don't think it is wrong to feel sympathy pains for people who resort to crimes. I actually do cry "services" when someone kills while robbing a store or drives drunk. we could do a lot more to take care of poverty, isolation, classism, and the other social circumstances that contribute to desperation. I think we can have our heart hurt for both sides and still have justice.

Beth @A Little Country House said...

Our nation and the people in it are so far removed from Our Lord Jesus Christ. It all boils down to the worship of ourselves and our own comfort, over loving others and meeting the needs of those who are struggling. I am sorry for the precious child and I feel sick for how sick and deluded her mother is. This is tragic on so many levels.

K. Devine-Brink said... That is the mother's blog post from the day of the incident.

Ker-Bear said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I too am so sick of hearing "don't judge", or "you haven't walked a mile in her shoes". Are you kidding me! Kelli Stapleton had more support and resources than many families in similar situations. To put the blame for her actions on the system, the teacher that disagreed with "the plan", or the lack of support is ridiculous. Kelli's blog is nothing more than an attention getting for Kelli. The Status Woe, as in woe us me? Sickening! The very small community were this family lives has rallied around this family, raising thousands and thousands of dollars for Issy's care. To repeatedly say she has no support is disrespectful to her community. Kelli made a choice to attempt to end her daughter's life. The blame for that choice falls squarely on Kelli.

Ker-Bear said...

I also visited the Facebook support page for Kelli and found it very disturbing. To justify what Kelli tried to do by saying she tried to kill herself too, like that makes it all better? I have two questions. Why was Issy so much more affected by the carbon monixide when Kelli and Issy are very close in size? And who has two small portable charcoal grills just sitting around? I do believe the truth will come out, as it normally does, maybe those so blindly supporting Kelli will put their support where it is needed most, for Issy and other children like her.

Marlowefranklin said...

Paula, please help me to understand how it is the ASN or anyone else feels they have the right to speak for Issy Stapleton? Have you ever met Issy? Did she tell you these things? Did she tell you to attack her mother in the media and cause mass hysteria where people think that parents are trying to "murder" their children who have autism? What gives you the right? Just because you have autism doesn't give you the right to speak for all of those who do. My son has autism. He is nothing like you and your friends who have done a fine job of dividing the autism community while making yourselves look paranoid and hateful.

If you knew Issy, if Issy could tell you, I'm sure she would tell you she loves her mom and wishes you would stop being so self consumed by your own grief and hate and just go away. Shame on you Paula Durbin.

Verity Warn said...

Well said!

Verity Warn said...

There's nothing paranoid and hateful about honouring the lives of all children, regardless of ability. There's nothing hateful or paranoid about wanting those children to have the right to a full life, with joy and happiness and nobody trying to kill them. There's nothing paranoid and hateful about any of this.

Also, nothing about what has been written above is anti-autism parent. This anti-murdering-of-children. Plain and simple.

Shame on you Marlowfranklin, for completely missing the point.

restlesshands42 said...

I'm with you on this (and may I quote you?).

As someone who struggles with mental illness, I have had the terrifying experience of having my mind contemplate violences that horrify me under "normal" circumstances.

Despair can drive people to some terribly dark places. One friend of mine attempted suicide when her son was an infant because she believed, at the time, that he and her husband would be better off without her.

Another friend spent the past few months considering giving her only child up for adoption because they were on the verge of being homeless and her mental and physical health was deteriorating to the point where she feared for her ability to keep him safe and well-- and yes, this was in spite of taking advantage of every possible social service she could find.

At the same time, I don't want to detract from Paula's point. Murder is never the answer. Murder is never OK.

I am deeply disturbed by the fact that current American society has more sympathy for someone who murders a disabled child or elderly person (those society views as "burdens") than for a domestic violence victim who murders their abuser (often considered legally justifiable... and a terrible reminder of just how bad some people's lives can get).

I am also distressed by how we respond to violence in general. My background in neuroscience makes me believe that our criminal justice system is pretty much useless. Even the idea of blaming people for their actions, much less the ways that we try to deter people from committing atrocities, should be under question (a great article on this topic here:

But one thing is clear: it is not OK to value certain lives less than others. And when we allow ourselves to do so-- in whatever ways, no matter how subtle-- we open the door to acts of evil. When we disrespect the dignity and humanity of a disabled child, or a mentally ill adult, or someone living in abject poverty, or someone struggling with alcohol addiction, or an elderly person who needs daily care, or the caregiver who attends them... then we are to some extent complicit in the horrors that may result. I am grateful that Paula included a link for those who feel they might be at risk of doing something terrible because they feel that they have no other options left.

So yes, I think compassion is a critical component in ending tragedies like this. But so too is outrage at the disparities that place certain lives at much greater risk of violent death than others.

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