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