Disability Advocates Call for Restraint and Responsibility in Murder Coverage


For more information: Stephen Drake

June 22, 2006 — Today, sad and alarming news emerged from Tazewell County. The Peoria Journal-Star reported that Kellie Waremburg has been charged with the attempted murder of her daughter, who is four years old and has cerebral palsy. The police have released no details and have acted responsibly in limiting their comments to the press at this time.

We sincerely hope this allegation turns out to be untrue. And we are all hoping that the young girl pulls through this medical crisis.

But if it is true, it’s time to demand that the media and parent “advocates” behave with more restraint and responsibility than they have in the coverage of the alleged murder of 3-year-old Katie McCarron by her mother.

Coverage of the alleged murder of Katie McCarron has been dominated by discussions of autism, poor support services, and an alarming parade of parents seemingly eager to tell the public they’ve felt like killing their own kids with disabilities.

In a May 18 article, Peoria Journal-Star columnist Phil Luciano quoted a friend of Karen McCarron as saying: (talking about having a child with autism) “It’s like a death, because a child you had in mind has died,” and “I don’t condone what she did,” the friend says. ” … (But) you have those moments. And at the last moment, she snapped.”

On that same day, Peoria Journal-Star reporter Karen McDonald quoted a well-known autism advocate, Dr. David Ayoub in regard to the alleged murder: “This is a story that’s been played over and over again. Homicide, suicide. The families just don’t have the support.”

On May 23, columnist Phil Luciano wrote yet another column on the McCarron case in which he quoted Christopher M. Kennedy, legislative director of the Autism Society of Illinois, who said, in part: “Karen’s feelings of isolation and despair are the norm, not the exception.”

Countless friends of Karen McCarron’s talked about her “dedication” as a mother, glossing over the fact that Katie had lived apart from her mother for 20 months and was only with her ten days until she was allegedly killed.

It should also be noted that the Copley News Service, in an article in the Springfield Journal-Register, decided to refer to the charges against to the death of Katie McCarron as “an alleged mercy killing,” which was then picked up and disseminated in a story by UPI that appeared in the Washington Times.

On June 9, the Chicago Tribune published an article by reporter Meg McSherry Breslin about the McCarron case. The title was “Daughter’s murder puts focus on toll of autism,” making the thrust of the article all too clear. More space was devoted in the article to sympathetic comments about Karen McCarron and negative comments about autism itself than to descriptions of the victim or to comments from deeply grieving family members, who are appalled by the press coverage and the comments coming from so-called “advocates.” This article was no reprieve for most of the McCarron family from the media assault on three-year-old Katie, although her accused killer might have found some comfort.

Lauri Hislope, on the executive board of the ANSWERS group in Peoria (a parent support group) said this about Karen McCarron: “Šwe understand how she got to hat place. We’ve all been either at that place or near it, but by the grace of God, we chose differently.”

Christopher Kennedy of the Autism Society of Illinois weighed in again, saying that parents “have communicated the feelings of despair and isolation so many of us have felt at different times in our lives with autism. … We cannot ignore the bigger picture and the context within which this and other such acts occur.”

No, we cannot ignore the broader context if we have a new attempted murder on our hands. Services and supports have been what they’ve been for quite awhile in Tazewell County and other parts of Illinois. Services didn’t suddenly get worse between the alleged murder of Katie McCarron and this newest incident.

We’d suggest that what has changed is a barrage of irresponsible media coverage and equally irresponsible advocacy. Researcher Dick Sobsey has documented an increase in the murders of children by their parents in Canada in relation to well-publicized and sympathetic coverage of the murders of children with disabilities. Articles about the alleged murder of a person with a disability should not contain more about the disability than about the victim as a person. More space should be devoted to grieving family members than sympathetic friends of the accused killer.

The Autism Society of Illinois and the ANSWERS group should rethink their strategy as well. Mike McCarron, Katie McCarron’s grandfather, has written that he feels abandoned and betrayed by “advocates.” To him and his family, the parade of “horror stories” about autism are offensive and painful. These groups need to ask just for whom they are supposed to be advocating. Is it the grieving McCarron family? They don’t feel supported. Is it children like Katie? Then why do they blame the victim? Or is it Karen McCarron, the alleged killer?

These groups might also ask, what will be accomplished by saying that murderous feelings toward disabled children are common? Will this increase the acceptance of children with disabilities in our schools and neighborhoods? Or will the public conclude that kids *that* horrible are better locked up? What is the end result when parents say feelings of murder or desperation are “the norm?” How will it affect the small percentage of parents struggling with the despair? Will it give them strength or help them leap off the abyss?

The media in Illinois also needs to reflect on how it covers murders of people with disabilities. McCarron was not covered with the same degree of professionalism shown toward other murders. There was a different standard at work. This needs to stop before the predictable consequences are felt by any more children and families.

Not Dead Yet is a national disability rights group that organizes opposition in the disability community to legalized assisted suicide, euthanasia and other forms of medical killing. Not Dead Yet also speaks out when accused killers of people with disabilities are treated more sympathetically than killers of nondisabled people are.