Thursday, August 20, 2009

Woman Charged In Death Of Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Kimberly Noyes has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 12-year-old John Fulton, an autistic boy found dead a few doors from his home in the community of Grand Forks, B.C.

John's body was found in Ms. Noyes's home Monday evening after a desperate, wide-ranging search by his family, community members and police that began on Saturday, when he disappeared.

Police quickly declared the boy's death a homicide, although no other details about the cause of death have been released.

The victim and suspect lived two doors apart in a 25-unit housing complex called the Gables that offers subsidized housing for low-income families.

John lived with his mother, Christal, and two sisters.

The Crown approved the second-degree murder charge Wednesday, a day after the 42-year-old mentally ill woman was arrested when she was spotted near a high school.

Ms. Noyes appeared before a justice of the peace via video link from the Grand Forks' RCMP detachment.

Ms. Noyes, a divorced mother of three who had recently left her job as an accountant at a local manufacturer of roof trusses for reasons that have not been disclosed, is to appear in court Thursday.

In a statement, an RCMP spokesman said the force would continue to assist and support the Fulton family.

“This has been an emotionally exhausting and tragic ordeal for all to comprehend and accept,” Corporal Dan Moskaluk said in a statement.

But the debate continued Wednesday over family criticisms of the way the Mounties handled the case, which has shocked residents of this quiet community of about 4,000 near the Washington border in the Kootenay Mountains, about 500 kilometres east of Vancouver.

The RCMP had to apologize because the family learned through a reporter of John's death, after news on the matter was posted on the RCMP website.

And the family has said in a statement that they are concerned no Amber Alert was employed in this case.

The RCMP and municipal police forces use the alerts in some child abductions, activating a process that generates special announcements on radio and TV so all members of the public can look for a missing child.

Since 2004, B.C. has had eight such alerts involving 11 children. All were quickly recovered.

“We do not know if this could have saved Johnny's life, nor do we wish to speculate. However, we feel strongly that any child with autism should automatically qualify as an Amber Alert,” they said.

Police Wednesday continued to defend the decision not to use an alert, noting that the case did not meet criteria for the tool, which include reasonable grounds to believe an abduction has occurred and that the victim is in imminent danger.

“I can only say the current Amber Alert criteria in B.C. were not met in this case,” said Corporal Annie Linteau of Vancouver. “In this case, we had no reason to believe John was abducted.”

The family has said John's case was not typical because of his autism, and that police need to work with the Canadian Autism Society to educate themselves on the realities of autism.

Society president Michael Lewis said some of that work has already occurred.

He said in an interview that police should have paid more attention to assertions by John's mother that it was unlikely that her son would have run away.

Mr. Lewis, who is also president of the B.C. autism society, said in this case, and others, parents have a special expertise that should be considered.

He said his organization was waiting for further developments, including a possible future coroner's inquest, that would provide an opportunity for recommendations.

Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor acknowledged that this case did not meet Amber Alert standards, which might be a cause for reflection.

“Maybe we should modify that to take into account the vulnerability of such a child,” he said.