Whitewashing the brutal murder of Alex Spourdalakis

31 Aug

Alex Spourdalakis was a 14 year old autistic who was brutally murdered by his mother and another caregiver. Among those with extraordinary needs, Mr. Spourdalikis had extraordinary needs. Shortly before his spent a considerable amount of time in a hospital, reportedly restrained the whole time. So far the only real details from that time have come from his mother and caregiver who were the perpetrators of the murder. The family was offered help. When someone from the local Autism Society asked the mother what she needed “[Ms.] Spourdalakis said all she wanted was an attorney” and one was found for the family. Another news report states that “Department of Children and Family Services spokesperson says that Dorothy Spourdalakis was offered services, but she refused.” Mr. Spourdalakis’ case became well known, especially within the online autism communities. The family received the services of Andrew Wakefield, whose career has taken him into reality TV film making. Mr. Wakefield’s team helped to publicize the situation and followed the family to New York from Chicago as they sought help from Mr. Wakefield’s former colleague, the gastroenterologist Arthur Krigsman. It is not clear what treatment Krigsman prescribed. Sometime after this, the mother and caregiver began to conspire in a plan to murder Mr. Spourdalakis. When the carried out their plan, they poisoned Mr. Spourdalakis with sleeping pills. When this did not work quickly enough, the mother and caregiver stabbed him. Not once, not twice, but four times, including two stabs to the heart. When even this proved not fast enough, the mother and caregiver slit his wrist. Slit so deeply that reportedly his hand was nearly severed from his arm. When Mr. Spourdalakis finally passed, the mother and caregiver turned the knife on the family cat. After cleaning the knife, they returned it to it’s place in the kitchen. The mother and caregiver then took large doses of sleeping pills, the method they had just found to be ineffective in the murder of Mr. Spourdalakis. The father (who was divorced from the mother and living elsewhere) and an uncle tried to reach the mother that day and, finding that they could not reach her, came to the apartment. When the door was not answered, the uncle reportedly kicked it down. This action, in my view, indicates that the danger posed to the young Mr. Spourdalakis by his mother (who was reported to have started planning the murder a week in advance) was known to his extended family and they were monitoring the mother in an attempt to prevent harm.

As noted above, Andrew Wakefield inserted himself into the story. His joint venture with Polly Tommey, the Autism Media Channel, started collecting film of Mr. Spourdalakis and his mother during the hospital stay. Mr. Wakefield’s intent certainly wasn’t to document the final days of Mr. Spourdalakis. Most likely he was planning a vide similar to that for the trailer he prepared for his proposed reality Show “The Autism Team”. That video shows autistic children in meltdowns, being self-injurious. One specific child is flown from the U.K. to New York to see Arthur Krigsman (just as Mr. Spourdalakis was taken from Chicago to New York to see Krigsman). In the trailer, after visiting Krigsman the child was shown happy, playing, and the parents were shown grateful. As we know, this was not the conclusion of the Alex Spourdalakis story. Whatever Mr. Wakefield and Ms. Tommey had planned for the video they had taken, the “treat bowel disease and everyone is happy” story was not to be. Instead, he has produced a video of the “medical establishment fails family, leading to tragedy” theme. I do wonder how he managed to work that theme around the facts that the tragedy (aka brutal murder at the hands of his mother) came to pass after Mr. Spourdalakis was seen by Mr. Krigsman.

CBS News journalist Sharyl Attkisson picked up the story and aired some of the video Mr. Wakefield’s team collected in Film provides glimpse into life of autistic teen killed by his mother. What is the subject of her story? The victim? The murderers? No. It’s the film. Likely the title of the online article was not chosen by Ms. Attkisson. Whoever did chose it acted poorly.

The written piece starts out with, yes, the mother:

Chicago mom Dorothy Spourdalakis was ordered to be held without bond early this week, on the charge that she and her 14-year-old son’s caretaker, Jolanta Agata Skordzka, murdered her severely autistic son. Alex Spourdalakis was found dead in June in his bed in the River Grove, Ill., apartment he shared with his mother and Skrodzka.

When Ms. Attkisson presents the discovery of the crime scene, she again presents the murderers first, then the victim. The mother and caretaker were “barely alive themselves”. The key point–they were (and still are) alive.

When police found Alex dead at home in June, his mother and caretaker were barely alive themselves after allegedly overdosing him on medicine and stabbing him in the heart before attempting to commit suicide.

The story presents the “balance” of which group failed. Was it the medical establishment or was (as she presents in a brief clip at the end) society’s attitudes about disability and the disabled? She chose this approach rather than checking facts in depth. What options were open to the family? What is the father’s and uncle’s view, as they were apparently worried about the safety of the young Mr. Spourdalakis? What evidence is there that the diagnosis made by Krigsman is accurate. While Krigsman is well thought of in some circles, he is not without his critics nor his own history of possible ethics lapses. Did she search out what supports had been offered to the family? What they had asked for (an attorney, for example, which was provided).

The written article states, “But some in the autism advocacy community take issue with the idea that lack of help is an excuse for murder.”

Really? Only some? And is this somehow limited to the autism community? Ms. Attkisson, what is your position? Is a lack of support an excuse for murder?

But there it is, in black and white, the crux of the story: is lack of help an excuse for murder? The answer is clearly no, it is not an excuse. When did we get to the point that U.S. journalists can be discussing an “excuse” for murder?

What about the lack of help? We have to take Ms. Attkisson’s word that there was a lack of help. Because Ms. Attkisson, investigative journalist, didn’t investigate that question. Instead she presented Andrew Wakefield’s depiction of the story from the murderers. Mr. Wakefield’s word is, well, not good enough for me. People who murder their children and are trying to build a defense are not reliable sources in my opinion. But the word of the accused murderers was enough for Ms. Attkisson. She took the time to investigate the hospital where Mr. Spourdalakis was kept for 2 weeks, but she didn’t bother to look into what resources were available to the family. Was insurance coverage really denied? More importantly, if so, why?

And, yes, she takes Mr. Wakefield’s word for it. She introduces her video segment with the statement that this would be “another unexplained tragedy” if it weren’t for the video he collected.

The story notes:

Dorothy’s suicide note read, in part: Alex will no longer be “treated like an animal” or “subjected to restraints.”

He will no longer be treated like an animal. He met the same fate as the family cat. Even the cat deserved better.

As a human being, I am appalled by this story. I am appalled by the way Ms. Attkisson and CBS have given us a commercial for Andrew Wakefield’s company and failed miserably to do the basic investigative journalism needed.

Much more, as the parent of a child not so unlike Alex Spourdalakis, I am disgusted. A common phrase we hear from parents is “what will happen after I am gone?” What will happen in a world where “caregivers” are excused from murder of their charges? And I know I am not alone in my views, having discussed this with other parents of disabled children. I won’t presume to present the autistic perspective on this, but here is one account:CBS Provides Glimpse into “Documentary” Defending Autistic Teen Alex Spourdalakis’ Killers .


by Matt Carey

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35 Responses to “Whitewashing the brutal murder of Alex Spourdalakis”

  1. lilady August 31, 2013 at 22:37 #

    I am so distressed about this video and the poor choice made by CBS This Morning TV show, to air a segment of the Autism Media Channel’s 18 minute documentary.

    Six weeks ago, while Wakefield was being interviewed on a radio show, he described the 18 minute documentary that he was “shopping around” to network television outlets.

    The child was in 4-point restraints 24/7 for days on end? Bullsh!t

    The child was unclothed except for a diaper to draped over his genitalia? Bullsh!t

    What type of parent would ever agree to having her child videotaped for AoA’s Lisa Goes to sensationalize his hospitalization?

    What type of parent would ever agree to having those same videotapes appear on YouTube?

    What type of parent would ever agree to having her naked, restrained child as the “star” of Wakefield-Tommey’s documentary?

    Throughout my long “career” as an advocate, including the 28 years that my beloved son survived, I was interviewed, by regional and national print and television outlets about the advocacy projects I was working on. Never once was my son videotaped or photographed…I refused to sign releases that would use his image in those published or televised interviews.

    The mother and the caretaker, rightfully so, have been charged with the premeditated horrific murder of Alex. Isn’t it appropriate that the enablers (Lisa Goes, Polly Tommey and Andrew Wakefield), be held criminally responsible for Alex’s brutal murder?

  2. reissd August 31, 2013 at 23:57 #

    Alex certainly deserved better. Thank you for speaking up for him, in face of this insult to his memory and exoneration of his murderer.

  3. Dave September 1, 2013 at 01:29 #

    The whole story of Alex Spourdalakis troubles me deeply. When we lie awake at night, we turn this story over in our minds, because it reflects our deepest fears. All of us have seen this story, or another story like it. All of us wonder who will care for our children when we are gone.

    There are plenty of good people out there. There are plenty of people who will protect those who cannot protect themselves. Some people lend a hand because their God has called them; some lend a hand simply because they have a higher ideal of love than the average jackal.

    But increasingly, we live in a society where each person looks out only for themselves. If you read any article about a disabled person, and jump down to the comments, you are likely to find a few comments about how they should have been “allowed to starve.” (I put that in quotes because I have seen those exact words…)

    The hateful comments are not just limited to the intellectually disabled, but can also be found in articles about the poor, the elderly, and people who are merely sick. Can anyone honestly say they have not seen these comments? The comments usually start with something like: “Why are my tax dollars going to support someone who will never be able to take care of themselves?”

    I sometimes write back and explain that it is called “civilization”, but usually, I just let it go. You can talk to people like that forever, but it never makes any difference.

    The story of Alex Spourdalakis attracted similar comments. In a way, the comments bother me almost as much as the story. People seem to excuse the murder, as if it was a logical response to the situation. It was not.

    I can’t tell you what the logical response is, because it is different for everyone. Some people visit their Congressman, some visit their local school, some seek out every possible straw to grasp at. Some spend their days trying to plan the best possible outcome for when they can no longer provide care.

    The one thing that each of these responses have in common is this: You play the hand you were dealt.

    I am still not sure why this story turned into yet another excuse to criticize Andrew Wakefield. I understand that you don’t care for his tactics, his personality, his self-promotion, and his refusal to resign in disgrace from any further effort to advance his odd ideas.

    But to me, this story is plenty sad without dragging Wakefield into it.

    • Lara Lohne September 1, 2013 at 03:28 #

      @lilady, you continue to be my inspiration and I strive to emulate the example you set as a parent advocate. I applaud and salute you.

      @Dave, I think there is something many of those ‘tax payers’ aren’t taking into consideration, much much more of their tax dollars are going to fund wars in foreign countries, house prisoners in our prison system, rebuild and maintain roadways, government buildings, pay government salaries and support the child support system (I’ll not get started on THAT one) as well as those who are elderly (who actually worked and paid their own taxes already so…) the poor, the sick and disabled, but a significantly smaller portion of tax dollars goes toward those who are less fortunate for whatever reason (i hate that phrase, ‘less fortunate’ because it just doesn’t feel right) then goes to clothes, feed and house criminals. Why are they not up in arms against that idea but totally get their panties in a bunch when it comes to supporting, very minimally, disabled individuals? And not all those who collect SSI/SSDI will never be able to support themselves. There are a good number of people who are very capable of caring for themselves, but they are still disabled and require accommodations and accommodations are only federally protected if their disability is officially recognized, that means getting SSI/SSDI.

      Alex’s murder sickens me, his ‘care givers’ (not so much really if they murdered him) sicken me even more. He wasn’t non verbal, until his behavior became erratic. That didn’t happen until after his wanna be mother got involved with anti-vaccine/anti-autism quacks and she didn’t seem to be in need of help until they planted that idea into her head. And why a lawyer? Why did she not accept the proven help that they offered to her? If she really was unable to care for him on her own, then you place him in the care of other people until you are able to. This was NOT about Alex, it never was, it was always about his poor excuse for a mother and I hope she is found guilty and rots in prison for the rest of her life. And her murder partner with her.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) September 1, 2013 at 03:31 #

      On the important points I think we are in agreement.

      As to Wakefield, the sad thing is, I didn’t write this to bash Wakefield. He’s using tragedy for self promotion. That’s a dog bites man sort of story. No sarcasm there, it’s just expected behavior from the man.

      I note Mr. Wakefield’s involvement to put the story on context. Ms. Attkisson is relying on an incredibly unreliable source (Wakefield) and not challenging anything he says. The piece she put together is basically a commercial, a plug, for the Wakefield/Romney business venture. The story isn’t journalism.

      Let’s say someone sent Dan Rather a “documentary” he had put together on some subject. Do you think Rather would summarize it for a short piece of his own and not do any follow up on the story as presented to him? No way. And this without touching on the possibility that the documentary producer has a reputation for lying and unethical behavior. This is not the CBS news I grew up with. Attkisson has already shown that she’s got a clear bias towards and some connection to the vaccines-cause-autism groups. This is a new low, in my opinion.

      • elburto September 5, 2013 at 21:40 #

        This. He’s capitalising on the horrific murder of a child, hideous ghoul that he is, while whitewashing his own role in the events leading up to it.

        The poor boy suffered indignity upon indignity in life, and now even in death he’s being horrifically exploited.

        Thank you for covering this, Matt.

  4. Narad September 1, 2013 at 05:05 #

    The story presents the “balance” of which group failed. Was it the medical establishment or was (as she presents in a brief clip at the end) society’s attitudes about disability and the disabled?

    Funny, that seems to omit the group that tried to capitalize on the situation and facilitated Alex’s winding up back at the hands of his killers. I’ve revisited this comment several times, and the part that follows the babbling about retaining viruses and so forth strikes me as credible.

  5. lilady September 1, 2013 at 07:18 #

    Dave: I have great empathy for every parent who has a developmentally disabled child…been there and done that.

    I was in total agreement with you, until your last few statements about Andrew Wakefield…

    “I am still not sure why this story turned into yet another excuse to criticize Andrew Wakefield. I understand that you don’t care for his tactics, his personality, his self-promotion, and his refusal to resign in disgrace from any further effort to advance his odd ideas.

    But to me, this story is plenty sad without dragging Wakefield into it.”

    Narad provided you with a link to a comment made by a parent of an autistic child who has put her child’s health at risk by having the child cared for by a quack doctor. I read that comment and the 619 other comments on that blog starting at 10 PM until 6 AM Saturday morning. I would suggest that you read that blog in its entirety, to understand that it was the Autism Media Channel, owned by Polly Tommey and Andrew Wakefield jointly, which videotaped Alex Spourdalaxis’ entire hospitalization. Tommey and Wakefield provided the videotape to Age of Autism and posted the video on YouTube that depicted Alex in 4-point restraints, buck naked with only an adult diaper partially covering his genitalia.

    Scroll down on that blog that Narad linked to, where I commented and provided the link to a radio show where Wakefield describes the videotaping and the packaging of some of the videotape into an eighteen minute documentary that he was offering up for sale to network TV shows.

    No one, certainly not Matt Carey, dragged Wakefield into it.

  6. lilady September 1, 2013 at 07:20 #

    test post.

  7. lilady September 1, 2013 at 07:32 #

    I just “lost” a rather long comment directed at Dave. Here’s the shortened version.

    Dave, you are (again) defending Andrew Wakefield…or perhaps you think Matt Carey has a vendetta against him.

    Wakefield and Polly Tommey own the Autism Media Channel, which videotaped Alex while he was at Loyola Hospital. They provided the videotape to Age of Autism showing Alex buck naked with his genitalia partially covered by a diaper and they provided that same awful tape to YouTube..

    Six weeks ago, after Alex’s murder, Wakefield was interviewed on a radio show (see my comment and the link I provided when you scroll down the Respectful Blog that Narad linked to). During that interview Wakefield stated he was busy trying to sell the 18 minute documentary of Alex’s hospitalization and murder, to a TV network. Apparently, he sold the documentary to CBS.

    No one, certainly not Matt Carey, is dragging into this situation…Wakefield is a prime player and the producer of that documentary.

    • lilady September 1, 2013 at 07:33 #

      ^ is dragging Wakefield into this situation…

    • Lara Lohne September 1, 2013 at 23:55 #

      I’m not even sure this video qualifies as a documentary. I’d say it’s more a hock-umentary created and designed only to help Wakefield make money. Otherwise he wouldn’t have needed to sell it. He also should feel some kind of remorse for profiting off Alex’s murder. He is the epitome of immoral.

  8. Broken Link September 1, 2013 at 15:04 #

    After watching this piece I felt total nausea at the exploitation of this young man by his “care-givers”. I don’t want to see that “mother” kissing Alex. I think we should remember the blood bath that must have taken place in his home, and who did that to him.

    This case was an EPIC FAIL for the biomedical movement. They had Alex seen by one of their “best”, Krigsman. WHO THEN FAILED TO TREAT Alex.

    • Lawrence September 2, 2013 at 13:17 #

      @Broken Link – why “treat” him, when they could make him a poster child for the “Biomed” movement. I don’t think they realized exactly how “crazy” the mother was or that her “treating” her son was most likely the reason for his distress…..can you imagine what kinds of quackery she was subjecting him to – because it has been stated on numerous occasions, even by the folks over at AoA, that he only became violent when it was time to go to the Doctor’s office….which Doctor, I wonder? And what were they doing to him?

  9. Malinda September 1, 2013 at 23:20 #

    In my opinion there are way too many people on here willing to judge. Do I agree with
    His murder? Absolutely not! I think it is horrific and sad and certainly should have never happened. But who of you on here have walked in that mothers shoes? I, myself have a teenage son with autism whom I love to the very depths of my soul. Yes some days are very hard, but I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Believe me when I say most of the time there is NO help out there and then when you do find help you worry yourself sick about are they treating them well..being good to them..meeting their needs? Alot of families are just like mine..they have no one to turn to..even our own families turn their backs on us! I’m am in no way excusing what she did to her son..but how many of you have lied awake at night wondering who in the world is going to take care of my baby when I am gone? If no one is around now they sure as hell won’t be when Im gone! I’m in no way excusing what this mother did but it is up to The Lord to judge and not anyone here
    Whom has never walked a day in her shoes!! Don’t give me the BS of “oh there’s plenty of help out there” yeah right! Been there, done that! I just hope all of you that have absolutely no idea check your mouth and attitude before being so quick to judge!

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) September 7, 2013 at 18:52 #

      “But who of you on here have walked in that mothers shoes?”

      Have you? Have you walked in Alex Spourdalakis’ shoes?

      “but how many of you have lied awake at night wondering who in the world is going to take care of my baby when I am gone? ”

      I wonder all the time. I will fight so that the world is not made up of caregivers who can be excused for abuse or murder because it is hard.

    • Lara Lohne September 8, 2013 at 21:19 #

      Two points here: 1.) autism is developmental delay, not stasis. With proper care and tools and acceptance, many of our children with autism can grow to be productive, and thriving members of society, able to care for themselves, for many things, even if they may require assisted living arrangements to ‘monitor’ them to ensure their safety, etc. Exposing developmentally delayed children to neurotypical peers can also help them to progress and learn better social and coping skills, just by emulation. Yeah, two years ago, before my son was verbal, able to dress himself and still was having trouble eating with a spoon, I wondered what would happen after I wasn’t here to care for him. That was when he was four. He speaks now, he can dress himself, he can feed himself and over the summer he was able to completely potty train! Progress. And he continues and will continue as he gets older, and I honestly believe it is because I allow him to stretch and test his own boundaries and grow in his own way and in his own time. I still advocate for him when necessary. I still worry, I don’t know what he will be like as an adult though. He may require assisted living residential placement, he may be able to live on his own. I won’t know that until the time comes and that is a long way off and each day is an opportunity for him to learn anew skill and improve the ones he already has.

      2.) No parent should ever kill their child, period. Any parent who does deserves punishment to the harshest degree the law allows. Lack of services, my arse! We all know there is a lack of services, but that is NO EXCUSE for taking someone else’s life! If a parent is no longer physically or emotionally able to care for their child, it is NEVER ok to murderer that child. Put the child in protective custody, assisted living situation or up for adoption, but it NEVER ok to murder. She wasn’t relieving Alex’s pain, she was relieving her own and didn’t give a lick about him. A person cannot love their child and murder their child. That is not possible!

      Did you notice how many ‘buts’ you have in your comment? Did you know that ‘but’ essentially negates the statement you made prior to the ‘but’? You say you don’t justify her murder, but, you do. You say you don’t agree with it, but, you do, You say you don’t condone it, but you do. You make your own judgements, just in her favor because you can’t see Alex as anything more then his diagnosis, and there in lies the crux of the problem! Autism is a part of who someone is, you cannot love one and hate the other, because you are hating, regardless of what your words say. You condemn us for judging her and yet you are judging her too. You just happen to agree with what she did and are making excuses for her and that, to me is reprehensible. I would apologize for being rude, except that I don’t feel I have been rude. This sort of sympathy garnering for the murderer and complete and total lack of regard for the victim angers me to the core of my being and I will not apologize for that anger. It is NEVER OK FOR A PARENT TO MURDER THEIR CHILD! End of discussion.

  10. Broken Link September 2, 2013 at 19:00 #

    Lawrence, there is an interesting exchange on AoA where Kim Stagliano comes close to admitting that Dorothy refused the biomeddlers’ help. So, perhaps she didn’t just refuse the mainstream help, but all help.

    I also think that many of the biomeddlers really believe that their “treatments” will help children. They would have had a much better poster child for their approach if they were would have been able to show an Alex that was much better.

    And besides, if Krigsman did find many lesions, is there no mainstream medical treatment that would be used in that case?

    • lilady September 2, 2013 at 21:25 #

      I think, after reading Kim Stagliano’s comments today, that she is looking to make herself as the “moderating” force at AoA…she says she doesn’t defend the murdering mother.

      @ Lara: Weeks ago, I located Wakefield’s interview with on an anti-vaccine radio station. I posted the link on Orac’s first blog about Alex’s murder. Scroll down the 600 + comments, toward the end you’ll see my comments.

      During that interview, Wakefield said he was trying to see an 18 minute documentary to the major TV networks…hence my referrals to Attkisson’s “small segment” and “documentary”.

      I didn’t think Andy would be successful…but then I had forgotten how gullible Attkisson is when it comes to vaccines and autism. She’s also either a lazy reporter, if she claims she didn’t know that Wakefield and Tommey own the Autism Media Channel which produced the 18 minute documentary…or she’s making stuff up.

      • lilady September 2, 2013 at 21:27 #

        ^ “trying to sell an 18 minute documentary to the major TV networks…”

  11. calliarcale September 9, 2013 at 19:44 #

    “He will no longer be treated like an animal. He met the same fate as the family cat. Even the cat deserved better.”

    And there I see something I hadn’t noticed before. He will no longer be treated like an animal? But who was treating him like an animal? One notes that they treated their cat exactly the same way as they treated him. It was his mother who treated him like an animal, treating him as property that she had the right to dispose of.

    Even as a murder-suicide the story is reprehensible, but I am also beginning to doubt even that; that they allegedly tried to kill themselves with a method they had just observed to be ineffective does suggest they may not actually have wanted to die. I’m still not sure they did it to avoid jail (why kill the cat, if they thought they had a chance of remaining free?) but perhaps it was part of their “woe is me” grandstanding. As someone who has dealt personally with clinical depression, I’m reluctant to doubt anyone’s suicide attempt or over-analyze their motives. But the more I think about this one, the more I wonder.

  12. Novys September 9, 2013 at 22:12 #

    To those who keep referring to “lack of resources,” I would ask this: if a parent were to kill her non-disabled child because she could not afford to care for them, would there be sympathy? Would that be acceptable? There are many families who slip through the cracks, not quite poor enough for government assistance, but poor enough to struggle to feed their children. What would you say then?

    I have such a difficult time with this because I have a disabled sibling, who was shown nothing but love and given the utmost care. I have a friend who is a single mother to an autistic child, and would never trade him for anything. My brain cannot fathom the lack of conscience that had to have been involved to nearly sever your own child’s hand with a kitchen knife. Proof that this had nothing to do with “lack of resources” lies in the fact that they also brutally murdered the family cat. Perhaps caring for a child with special needs drove out the wicked in these women, but they are still exactly that: wicked.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] They had no other choice? They had a choice to give the child up to child protective services among other choices that did not involve slowly poisoning, nearly severing his arm, and stabbing […]

  13. Andrew Wakefield, apparently he’s making films to convince you that doctors think vaccines cause autism and are covering it up. | Left Brain Right Brain - May 28, 2014

    […] in case you weren’t aware, Mr. Wakefield has a new career as a film maker. He has a documentary on the death of an autistic young man, Alex Spourdalakis. Mr. Spourdalakis was brutally murdered by his mother and caregiver. Mr. Wakefield, as it turns […]

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