Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Canadian mother charged with murdering teen son with autism

From The Globe & Mail in Toronto:

Tony Khor couldn’t tell his mother when he needed to let off steam, but somehow she knew anyway. And so Oct. 22, Seow Cheng Sim (pictured) took Tony, her severely autistic only child, to run on the treadmill at LA Fitness, a slick and shiny gym next door to the Homewood Suites hotel.

Perhaps that’s why, after an argument with her husband the following day, Ms. Sim chose to take Tony, 15, to the Homewood Suites for the weekend.

Why Tony wound up dead, and his mother charged with first-degree murder, remained painfully unclear to the boy’s father and their suburban neighbours on Oct. 26.

“I never saw the sign coming,” Boon Khor said outside a Brampton, Ont., court, where his wife appeared briefly.

After more than two decades of marriage, Ms. Sim asked her husband for a divorce during their dispute on Friday, Mr. Khor said, and threatened to kill herself if she didn’t get one.

Thinking she had taken Tony and gone away, perhaps to Niagara Falls, to calm down on Saturday, Mr. Khor thought she would return to patch things up.

“I was staying home all day and the whole night and [they] never turned up,” he said. Instead, he was paid a visit by Peel Regional Police on Sunday morning.

Aside from the “obvious signs of trauma” officers said they found on the boy’s body, investigators have revealed little.

Neighbours saw their own obvious signs over the years along Clansman Trail, a street of modest, 1980s brick-clad houses with two storeys and single-car garages. Ms. Sim, they said, was on a treadmill of her own, running to stay ahead of her son’s deepening condition while her husband worked as a business consultant to support the family.

“He was her life,” a long-time resident, who spoke occasionally with Ms. Sim, said on Monday. “She did everything for him.”

That included daily games of badminton on the driveway, with Tony’s back to the garage while his mother stood nearer the sidewalk. Ms. Sim also sought out a place for Tony at St. Marcellinus Catholic Secondary School, outside the family’s neighbourhood but willing to add him to their roster of special-needs students.

In fact, neighbours said, the family moved to Canada from Singapore because they felt Tony, diagnosed when he was two, would receive better support services here.

Better or not, such services are sometimes not enough to mitigate the strain parents of autistic children feel. Karyn Dumble, a spokeswoman for the charity Autism Ontario, said Tony’s parents would have faced particular difficulty due to the boy’s inability to speak.

“It’s that much more challenging for his family to be able to communicate with him if he can’t be really clear and specific about what his needs are, what he’s feeling and how he’s experiencing the world,” Ms. Dumble said.

“But, for a mom or a dad to get to the point where they choose to take the life of their child rather than choosing to call 911 or their local crisis hotline, that is horrific,” Ms. Dumble said, adding that Tony’s death is all the more chilling since an Edmonton father killed his autistic son, 11, and then took his own life last month.

Near St. Marcinellus Secondary on Monday, where the rosary was recited in Tony’s memory, students said they didn’t know the Grade 9 boy, though a girl said special-needs students are warmly welcomed at the school.

“They eat lunch with us; they’re sweet and cute,” she said.

“We prayed for him,” a Grade 9 boy added.