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Terminal mom kills disabled son and herself

A woman in her 60s recently diagnosed with terminal cancer apparently shot and killed her disabled son, then killed herself, and detectives suspect the woman feared that her disease would leave her unable to care for her adult son, authorities and law enforcement sources said.

Both bodies were discovered about 8:30 a.m. Monday, when a neighbor in the 1600 block of Clarion Terrace in Fort Washington called to ask police to check on the family because something seemed amiss. Officers found both bodies inside and a crime scene consistent with a murder-suicide, said Deputy Chief Kevin Davis, who heads the Prince George’s County Police Department’s Bureau of Support Services.

He said officers recovered a handgun from inside the house, and they suspect it was used in the killings, which occured in the 24 hours before the bodies were discovered.

“It’s just a tragedy,” Davis said. “It’s just, you look back on it, and was there an opportunity to cry out for help in a way that’s different from this?”

Davis said the mother was “recently” diagnosed with a terminal illness, and her son, who was in his 30s, had been wheelchair-bound for several years.

“All that apparently played into this tragic murder-suicide,” he said.

A law enforcement source said the mother had cancer, and the son was paralyzed from the waist down. The source said detectives suspected the recent diagnosis may have motivated the mother to take her son’s life, then her own, out of fear that no one would be around to take care of the man if she fell ill or died of her illness.

The mother and son lived alone, but they had other local family members, Davis said. He said detectives were working to contact those family members Monday. He did not immediately release the name of the mother or her son.

Frances Swann, 73, who lives across the street from the two, said the father and husband had died earlier, and the woman cared for her adult son, making sure he was safely in a van and on his way to work every morning at a government job.

Swann said the woman was well known in the neighborhood for her beautiful landscaping work — she could almost always be spotted out working in the yard — though recently she had complained of feeling sick.

“She had the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood,” Frances Swann said. “She will be missed by all the neighbors.”

Swann said she talked to the dead son's brother Monday morning, and he told her what had happened. She said she last talked to the disabled son a little more than a week ago, and he said he was going to take his mother to the doctor.

News of what happened shocked the quiet community off Livingston Road. Some neighbors stood outside on their porches, peering down at the two-story brick home with a silver van in the driveway that was now roped off with yellow crime scene tape and swarming with homicide detectives and police commanders.

Doris Dixon, 54, who lives up the street, walked down to see what all the commotion was and was suprised to here that a woman who was “always pleasant” had just killed her son and herself.

“I’m just overwhelmed because she seemed like a really nice lady, and I never saw anything out of the ordinary,” she said. “I cannot believe that.”

Davis said police had never been called to the house before for any reports of trouble. Spokesmen for the county did not immediately return inquiries asking whether the family had any interaction with any of its social services agencies in the past.

-- Matt Zapotosky

(This post has been updated.)

By Washington Post editors  |  June 7, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Homicide , Matt Zapotosky , Pr. George's  
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I feel so sorry for the disabled. We are a country full of pesticides, PCBs, herbicides, steroids, hormones and more. We have sick kids and it is very hard for them to have a normal life.

Posted by: FiatBooks | June 7, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Sounds more like he had an accident and suffered brain and soinal injuries, as opposed to pesticides and the like. But yes its very hard for any with disabilities.

Posted by: schnauzer2 | June 7, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: PublicEnemy1 | June 7, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

This is such a shame. This area of Fort Washington is usually quiet and safe... atypical of a lot of PG County.

Posted by: penance091 | June 7, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Honorable! Sad but Honorable! I want that option later in life.. Good movie and check out drugs.. dump my ashes in the Chesapeake..

Posted by: genbarlow | June 7, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

The sad truth is that she was probably right. What an end to what was likely a very hard life for them both.

Posted by: rlwhitt | June 7, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Not quite sure what the quiet of safety of their neighborhood has to do with such a sad story.

Posted by: mike8 | June 7, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

It took guts to do what she did, I'm proud she had the courage.

Posted by: kenk3 | June 7, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Are you all really so proud of her? Doesn't anyone wonder what the son thought? Did he want to die? Just because she "THINKS" no one will take care of him dos not justify murder. There is not enough info in the story to judge this.

Posted by: martintomsal | June 7, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

This is such a shame. This area of Fort Washington is usually quiet and safe... atypical of a lot of PG County.

Posted by: penance091

What does area have to do with what happened? Would you feel better if it happened in howard county or Potomac? Some people say stupid things dont they?

Posted by: ged0386 | June 7, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Proud of her???!! Are you guys serious?? The article said the son was paralyzed from the waist down...that just means he can't walk. It said nothing about his mental capacity. The mother took it in her own hands to make a permanent decision about her sons life. What about what he may have wanted? I'm sure once she heard "terminal cancer" she felt all hope for her life was lost. But her son didn't get that same diagnosis. A honorable thing for her to do would have been to spend the last leg of her life securing life-long accomodations for her son. I understand a mother's love but I can't go as far to say she did an honorable thing...or that I can be proud of her decision. I can only be sad that she was stricken with a horrible disease and that her son wasn't given the chance to decide the outcome of his life.

Posted by: LadyT1 | June 7, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Unbelievable comments. The guy was paralyzed from the waist down, a lot of people live with that disability and without help. That was inexcusable... guts and courage - you have got to be kidding.

Posted by: laseay1 | June 7, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

My prayers go out to family because this situation should make each of us open our eyes. This is a sad situation for the mother to fear that NO ONE IN HER FAMILY WOULD CARE FOR HER AND HER DISABLED SON DURING HER RECOVERY/ILLNESS. This is obvious, because HAD THE FAMILY BEEN CARING AND SUPPORTIVE OF HER - SHE WOULD HAVE "NEVER, EVER TAKEN HER LIFE OR HER SON'S. This is what is wrong with people today, it's the me me me, or I DON'T HAVE TIME TO DEAL WITH THEM. Now her family will rummage thru their belongings to see what they can get. SAD!!

Posted by: smrrd | June 7, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Anyone here that thinks this is honorable what this mom did need to play the role of her son, then post their comments.... I am sure the comments would be VERY different.

Posted by: Hlynchmaster | June 7, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

None of us can know from this very brief story enough details to make a judgment about the actions of the woman in this story. We don't know how profoundly disabled her son was, what their situation was and how dire her diagnosis was.

One thing is knowable though: that there is no safety net for severely disabled people in this country and that there are probably tens of thousands of people who fear for the day that they die and there is no one left to care for their very disabled children. Most would not go to the extreme of murder/suicide but I'm sure a lot contemplate it as being ultimately less cruel than leaving their children to the vicissitudes of a society that cares virtually nothing for very poor healthy children let alone indigent and severely disabled adults.

Posted by: elizestrada | June 7, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

What is so tragic about this story is that the mother felt there was no one else to help in the care of her son. There was mention of family members locally but have they been of help to the mother and son up to now? Families need to work together and not leave the care of others on one individual. I sincerely pray for the lives of both individuals.

Posted by: maehenrie | June 7, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The guy had a Government job. Even if he had a mental disability, it wasn't servere enough to keep him from sounds like his disability was purely physical. And then there's this: "She said she last talked to the disabled son a little more than a week ago, and he said he was going to take his mother to the doctor." So, apparently the disabled son was able to get around well enough on his own. The point is, I think you'll find the mother became depressive upon her diagnosis, which was a bigger factor in causing her to act. Taking her own life might have been merciful for her, but it's an unfortunate tragedy that she took her son's life as well.

Posted by: akchild | June 7, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Very sad and not worth judging after the fact. Just a very tragic story.

Posted by: kahlua87 | June 7, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

This makes me want to do more to help the disabled. Perhaps I can prevent someone else from the despair that would cause such an occurrence.

Posted by: brandip_77 | June 7, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

My daughter worked with the son. His co-workers all looking at his empty desk and feeling such saddness. He was in a wheelchair. He was smart and had a very hard job. He drove himself to and from work in heavy traffic. What happened to this man was tragic. The mom must of been mentally confused or very selfish. She wasn't brave, she robbed him of his life.

Posted by: lochkin | June 8, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

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