'This was not about autism'

From the Pekin Journal Star, May 24, 2006

'This was not about autism'
Phil Luciano

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Don't blame autism for the death of Katherine McCarron, says her paternal grandfather.

"I am positively revolted when I read quotes that would imply any degree of understanding or hint at condoning the taking of my granddaughter's life," says Michael McCarron, 62, of Indianapolis. " ... I'm dealing with a very straight-forward murder case.

"This was not about autism. This was not about a lack of support."

On May 13, the 3-year-old Morton girl was suffocated with a plastic bag, allegedly at the hands of her mother, Dr. Karen McCarron, 37. The mother has been under suicide watch at the Tazewell County Jail, where she is being held under $2 million bond and faces two counts of first-degree murder.

Michael McCarron called me this week after having read numerous stories about the case, some of which he says point the finger of guilt in the wrong direction. For instance, though polite, he ridiculed the notion of his daughter-in-law's friends who have portrayed her as distraught over a lack of autism treatment in the Peoria area.

"Katie wasn't in central Illinois (until May)," he calmly says. " .... So what programs central Illinois has or doesn't have ... has not one ounce of applicability to (the death of ) Katherine McCarron."

After Katherine was diagnosed with autism almost two years ago, parents Karen and Paul McCarron searched for the best treatment possible. They found two autism-centric schools in Raleigh, N.C.

Karen McCarron could not easily leave her pathologist's job in Peoria. So she remained in the couple's home in Morton and took care of their daughter Emily, now 2. Helping with child care was Karen McCarron's mother, Erna Frank of Morton.

Paul McCarron, an engineer with Caterpillar Inc., transferred to a company outpost in North Carolina. He rented an apartment outside Raleigh, where he resided with Katherine and her paternal grandmother, Gail McCarron of Indianapolis - Michael McCarron's wife of 38 years.

To move to Raleigh, Gail McCarron had to quit her longtime job as a legal secretary in Indianapolis, her husband says.

"It was a sacrifice," he admits. " ... (But) this was not a chore."

He says the elder McCarrons were glad to help Katherine during her 20 months in North Carolina.

"This was our first granddaughter," says Michael McCarron, who'd already had grandsons. "Autism or not, you don't get any more special than that."

The effects of autism range from slight to severe. Its many manifestations most commonly include difficulty in communication, diminished social interaction and resistance to change.

For Katherine, communication was the biggest problem, Michael McCarron says. She could babble words and phrases - such as "I love you" when he held her - but did not have the verbal skills of a typical girl her age.

"An autistic child is a handful," Michael McCarron says. "They are very difficult to train."

Katherine also had difficulty concentrating. And she often would refuse to go to bed at night, preferring instead to stay up late playing with her toys, often her plastic farm animals.

However, unlike many autistic children, she did not frequently act up, he says. She usually followed a daily routine aimed at improving her communication.

In the morning, her grandmother would feed and dress her. By 9 a.m., she'd get Katherine to school, where the girl worked on communication and cognitive skills. At noon, her grandmother would pick up the girl and return home for lunch, maybe even a nap.

Later, the grandmother would drive the girl to another school for further autism treatment. In mid-afternoon, the grandmother would bring her home, where Katherine would work with a tutor.

At 5 p.m., her father would get home from his job.

"That was big party time," Michael McCarron says.

After the trio would eat dinner, father and daughter often would go for a walk. Back at home, they'd play word games intended to help Katherine's development.

Karen McCarron sometimes would fly to North Carolina to visit her husband and daughter. When finances allowed it, Michael McCarron - the manager of an insurance company - would fly down.

He says Katherine loved nothing more than to be outside, so they'd often head to a nearby park.

"I had wonderful times," he says. "She loved the swing and the motion and the wind. I held my hand (out) and she'd come to it, and she would shriek with delight."

Michael McCarron says the scholastic regimen had Katherine progressing. However, this year Karen and Paul McCarron decided they no longer wanted the family to live apart.

"Twenty months apart, that's a long time," Michael McCarron says.

The couple decided that Katherine and her father would move back to Morton in May.

During the move, Paul and Katherine McCarron stopped with their moving van in Indianapolis to drop off his mother and visit overnight with Michael McCarron.

"She lined up her little dolls and talked to each one of them," Michael McCarron says.

That was two weeks ago. That was the last time he saw Katherine.

Michael McCarron declines to talk about why his daughter-in-law might have killed Katherine.

"I promised the police I wouldn't," he says. " ... That'll come out in court."

However, he says no one in the family saw any warning signs from Karen McCarron.

"There was no foretelling," he says in a gasping rush. "Oh my gosh, I wish there was."

He believes in the need for improved services nationwide to treat autism. But he adamantly refutes the rationalizing of Katherine's death as a result of a lack of autism services.

"When people say, 'I can understand that,' I just want to cover my head," he says. "We're not dealing with desperation here. We're not dealing with 'we have to end this child's pain.'

"Having held that little girl in my arms and have her laugh with me or have her clutch me when I gave her raspberries, I can't understand that."

PHIL LUCIANO is a columnist with the Journal Star. He can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com, 686-3155.

Michael McCarron's Official Statement

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 must apologize for the length of this post, please know that I keep each of you in my prayers.

Photographs of Katie have been made available for public use by her grandfather. Download yours here: Katie McCarron Photos

Initial news reports on Katie's murder
Daughter's murder puts focus on 'toll of autism' With a cautionary note by us on that "toll of autism" thing.
Katie's father files for divorce, citing 'extreme mental cruelty'
Karen McCarron admitted to planning the murder
Karen was described as 'lucid' and 'very calm'
'I wanted to take the autism out of her'
More analysis of the Journal-Star articles.
Murder of Autistics (Archive)

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