Edmonton

Dad in murder-suicide had sought help for autistic son

The deaths of a man and his 11-year-old autistic son on Sunday were the result of a murder-suicide, Edmonton police said Tuesday, after receiving confirmation from the Edmonton Medical Examiner's Office.
Karen Phillips, from the Autism Society of Edmonton Area, worked with the family. (CBC)
The deaths of a man and his 11-year-old autistic son on Sunday were the result of a murder-suicide, Edmonton police said Tuesday, after receiving confirmation from the Edmonton Medical Examiner's Office.

On Sunday, police found the bodies of the man, 39, and the boy in a home in northeast Edmonton, after they received a call from the man's common-law wife.

She was worried because she couldn't get in touch with him.

When officers arrived at the home around 12:42 p.m., they found the man and the boy dead in the basement.

Police said they will not be releasing the names of deceased in order to protect the privacy of the family and to protect the identity of other children in the family. They will also not be releasing the cause of death.

The boy was autistic and had been living at a group home.

The family had become desperate for help because the little boy had become difficult for the family to manage, said Karen Phillips, who works with the Autism Society of Edmonton Area. 

Phillips had worked with the family and said the mother asked her to share their story.

"To say that this can't happen for other families."

"The dad just felt he couldn't do it any longer and he just didn't think he could get the help he needed," she said, as her eyes welled up with tears.

At one point, the family took the boy to the emergency department of an Edmonton hospital, where he was later admitted to the psychiatric unit, Phillips said. But the staff there weren't equipped to help a child with autism.

Eventually, a place was found for the boy in a group home, but that search was a struggle, because many group homes are not set up to deal with autistic children with extreme behavourial problems.

The case highlights a lack of emergency services to help the families of autistic children, Phillips said.

"There is no emergency service. So parents are stuck at home with their children in situations that, if the general public knew, they'd be appalled," she said.

"They would think, 'none of us could cope with that.' But it's an everyday occurrence for families who have ... behaviourally out-of-control children with autism."

Families are told to call police who in turn will take the child to the psychiatric unit of a hospital, but the staff there don't have the kind of training required to help the child, Phillips said.

"They're very good. They try their best, but they're not trained in autism and the doctors there will say clearly, this is not the place for children with autism."

The government was working on emergency respite services for families, but recent cutbacks mean the plans have been put on hold, she said.