He likes to watch cartoons like “Thomas the Tank Engine,” “Scooby-Doo” and “Superman.” Anything with a superhero.
With animated characters, he can distinguish between fact and fantasy. But the mother of a 6-year-old boy suspected of shooting and killing his grandfather said that when it comes to shows with actors, she isn’t so sure.
“There were several times he’d say ‘That’s real,’ ” his mother said. But she doesn’t know if he understood her when she explained that it wasn’t.
After Friday, however, he became the only suspect in the shooting death of his grandfather. But many of his behaviors mirrored those of other 6-year-olds.
He collects stuffed bunny rabbits of all shapes, sizes and colors, his mother said. He enjoys going to the mall and playing in the toy store. And his favorite toys to play with at home, aside from his rabbit collection, are Hot Wheels cars.
“He’s a little boy that’s smarter than the average 6-year-old,” she said.
His mother said that her son has had mental health problems since he was 2, and she thinks his early behaviors of making threats were just cries for attention. Recently, however, his behavior escalated.
“His attacks have become more serious in the last six months,” she said.
And while another one of his favorite things to do is to play with his little sisters and spend time with his mother, his last stay at the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center resulted in violence toward his sisters, his mother said. He has stayed at the center five times this year, she said. He attacked his mother and tried to attack his sisters with knives and kicked his baby sister in the face, she said.
But his mother said she has tried to seek help for her son since he was 2. During the past two years, she said has called a treatment center about 50 times asking for help with her son. Each time, they denied help to her son, she said.
“They only want to help you after something has happened,” she said.
His mother said the boy has been evaluated by three facilities.
She said her son has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder; oppositional defiant disorder, a disorder characterized by behaviors such as hostility, defiance and aggression; severe depression and mood disorder and brain seizures that sometimes as hostility, defiance and aggression; severe depression and mood disorder and brain seizures that sometimes cause him to be delusional.
While insurance covers the medications for almost all of his disorders, the cost of his seizure medicine has prevented the family from being able to buy it, she said.
But despite her son’s disorders, she does not think her son killed his grandfather on purpose.
“I don’t even think he knows what happened,” she said.
She said she hasn’t talked to her son since the shooting, though she knows where he’s being held. She said that it is for the child’s protection and because she would be subpoenaed and made to testify against her son. “And I’m not going to do that,” she said.
She plans to continue to seek other venues of help for her son, she said.
“He’s a 6-year-old they let slip through the cracks,” she said.
Because the boy is too young to be tried as an adult, he will be evaluated by the 19th Circuit juvenile court, which will decide whether treatment is necessary. If so, the child can be detained by juvenile authorities until he is 18 or committed to a mental health facility indefinitely if he is considered to be a continuing threat to society, Cole County Sheriff John C. Hemeyer said.
Children under 10 are very rarely killers, said Kathleen Hiede, interim dean of University of South Florida’s College of Arts and Sciences. Hiede, who has training in psychology and psychotherapy, has written about adolescent homicide, family violence, personality assessment and juvenile justice.
“With kids who kill, you tend to find lots of problems,” she said. “With little kids, it tends to be more pathology and mental illness.”
With young offenders, Hiede said treatment often helps rehabilitation because it identifies a problem while they’re still young.
“Usually, kids who are violent at that age are better treated in the mental health system than in courts,” she said. “It’s important to find out what’s causing the violent action.”
— Megan Alexander of the Missourian contributed to this report.