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Autistic 11 Year Old Left Alone. Starts Fire. Dies.

Weep Managing Editor's Note: Please wake up, America. Join our reality AAP. Report on the stress and lack of support and respect, media. Autism is killing our children, shattering our families. We need support, help, treatment, respite, my God, we need respite. How long before we have to add a "RIP" category?

 BY Oren Yaniv, Erin Durkin and Jonathan Lemire

An autistic 11-year-old boy who can barely speak died in a fire that he set Tuesday when his grandmother left him alone in her Brooklyn apartment, officials and witnesses said.

Tavon Turpin used matches or a lighter to ignite the blaze in a hallway closet while his grandmother, Melinda McLain, 59, had gone to a deli near the Coney Island apartment, police said.

The grandmother was hit with criminal charges for leaving home without Tavon, who recently sparked a small fire by cooking a cell phone in a microwave, police and FDNY sources said.

"The kid didn't have a chance," said neighbor Wigberto Figueroa, 34. "It's so sad."

Read more: NY Daily News.



The child is autistic you dont leave them alone. There is a reason why the child is diagnost autistic. My son is 13 years old i cant leave him alone for a second. Its my job to keep him safe and others around him. We have to try our best.


You don't have to have autism to start fires or put things into electrical sockets...

The most at-risk age group for accidental death in the pediatric population is 18mo-4yo, as kids can fall down stairs, set drapes on fire, ingest Grandma's diabetes medication that looks like "candy", or wind up face down in the swimming pool.

And there are plenty of 6-10yo with poor impulse control that inadvertently set their bathroom on fire every year.

Tavon's death is a terrible loss, just like ANY child lost to a preventable death.

Roylena Watson

Tavon was my little cousin and I appreciate all of the comments of people who understand what it's like to care for a child with autism and who have expressed their condolences. Please keep your other ignorant feelings to yourselves because it is easy to judge when it's not you or your family. My aunt loved Tavon very much and needs all of the support she can get right now dealing with this. She has no home, lost her son(grandson), and is under arrest for doing something that other parents do everyday. How would you feel?


The comments from the general, ignorant, idiotic public at the NY DN are appalling. *sigh*

My favorite one: "The kid knew how to start a fire. He couldn't have been that dumb." Lord, if being autistic just meant you were "dumb." ASD kids are ANYthing but dumb, for crying out loud!!

Back in the day, it wouldn't have been considered "criminal" or "negligent" to leave an 11 year old alone at home for 30 minutes. The fact that this child was autistic definitely compounds this issue, but god do I feel bad for this grandmother, and this child's family.

In my home state this week, they just cut thousands of families respite care with no warning or explanation. Thousands of families are now without their only method of support from the state for this debilitating condition we call autism. Is this how we treat people now? I am beyond disgusted with our system.

Elaine Hickey

Such supportive comments from those of us living in the Autism community. I agree with everyone above . . . been there, done that. I am "lucky" - we have had Respite/ResHab since 1997. However, there has been no "new" money in NYS since 2001. And now, with all the budget cuts in New York State, and "cease and desist" orders to halt all development of any new programs . . . it's hard just to sustain existing programs. I know families of the younger kids who are on waiting lists of 5-6 years plus. Sadly, Tavon's family was probably among them. OMRDD Comissioner Ritter and Governor Patterson - please listen!! These families need your help!! I think a RIP section is a good idea.


Please consider posting directly to the Newspaper site on this story as well.
We need to Rally for the Grandmother, and her lost Grandson Tavon.
The General Public is without a clue, and our Gov is alseep. How many more lives this month?
Should we all be in the streets holding signs up, our Child has autism ,does his/her life count or matter to you? Or only when they have died?

Jenny Webster

Re: editors note.

It's a war. I have decided to declare war --that study said our stress is the same as combat stress... Well this Army girl decided that the punishment should fit the crime.

And we all need to declare war. On our doctors, school, media outlets, etc.


I pray my son will be one last one he already eats all his foods sleeps at night 0 meltdowns and a happy child but it breaks my heart to not be able to fix him back to the way he was born.I cryied my eyes out every night for 3 years when he developed autism.I can understand keeping him in the house not known to the world i am calm doing that I just want him to live in his world and be safe and happy.I am trying all the treatments hopefully we will see more improvements.I have had good GI results for 3 years but i dont feel like the damage that was done to his brain when he recieved every vaccine he would ever need from 2 month catch up at 12 months old will ever repair to normal.God Bless u all and are children.


The more I think about this, the angrier I get. I couldn't even list the number of times my autistic child almost died. I always say he must have some seriously vigilant guardian angels. He has escaped through many layers of locks too many times to count. We have had to call 911 more than 3 times. He has leaned too far over railings. He has come so close to falling off of retaining walls. He has darted into traffic. He opened his 2nd story window and pushed the screen out. He has climbed into the dryer and the oven. He has pulled bookshelves on to himself (at school, our furniture is bolted to the wall). He climbs on top of the entertainment center which is about 5 feet high and laughs and jumps around. The only reason he is not dead like so many autistic kids is because we have been lucky. You can never, never be vigilant enough. We do what we can.
I cannot believe they are charging this poor woman. The boy was 11 years old, this is a normal age to leave a child to run to the deli. I'm not even sure a normal 11 year old boy wouldn't get a hairbrained idea to microwave a phone. If he wasn't autistic, would they charge grandma?

Autism Grandma

As a grandmother who cares for an autistic child I can verify that exhaustion produces inability to think straight and lapses in judgement. "Judge not lest ye be judged"

The grief stricken angel in the photo above says it all....


I think there needs to be an RIP section as well. It'll help shock the hell out of reporters who call me wanting comments about our state pulling respite care funding due to budget shortfalls. If we could have them all in one place it would be easy to refer people to who say autism isn't deadly and why autism families need so much support.


Today my "not yet diagnosed" 3 year old unplugged the cell phone that was charging and stuck something in the socket while I ran down to the basement to switch the laundry. Thank God nothing happened to him. I felt horrible that I forgot about the one plug not child-proofed. It only takes a second. I can't even take a shower some days. Who do I leave in charge-my 10 year old with ASD? Everyday I think about the future-I have hope but I am also realistic. Who will take care of my children when they are adults? Will I always be able to do it? Without any family support or understanding, what will happen? RIP Tavon


Many 11 year olds are just starting to babysit other, younger children. I hope the court recognizes that the 59 year old grandmother was probably doing the best she could under the circumstances. This is starting to get scary- all the kids who run away, are killed by exasperated parents or have fatal accidents like this. It's a wake-up call for sure. My prayers are with Melinda and the rest of the family.

Raymond Gallup

Very sad.

If he hadn't died in the fire, he would have eventually wound up like our son, Eric in a residential center. Many children that become adults and can't be handled by the families will wind up in residential centers/group homes. I feel 80-90% of adults with autism will eventually be destined for a residential center/group home unless they die prematurely. I know that in NJ, there is a waiting list for even children (besides adults) with autism for residential centers/group homes.


Reminds me of those comments from "the Other side" who state that they'd rather have the security of "herd immunity" than worry about autism (you know, 'cause the autism rates are just so low).

Then you hear stories like this one. Would measles or chickpox have killed this boy? No, a nueropathically damaged brain (or autism) ultimately did, probably due to the vaccine schedule.


I started babysitting at 12 years old. So normal 11 year olds should be able to take care of themselves safely for 30 minutes or so.

I hate it when people say they'd rather vaccinate against "deadly" diseases and have their kid get autism, because autism isn't deadly. Yeah, right.


Kim, there absolutely needs to be a section that has all the stories of the deaths, kids who have wondered off, and kids that have hurt/killed their parents. Unfortunately the stories would accumulate quickly and maybe more would notice when they all sit together.

Recently, I went to the next room to make my son a bowl of oatmeal, which takes one minute. I returned and my front door was open and my son was gone. There is a latch on the top of the door and I religiously check and double check it several times a day. The one time I didn't. I ran faster than I thought was possible and was within 30 feet of him as he approached a busy road running and laughing. By a miracle, he stopped and I was able to catch up to him. I will never be able to remove that memory from my mind. No one else would have run that fast, not grandparents or babysitters. The fear sits in my chest about who will be there when I am gone. Right now, the answer is no one.

My heart breaks for this little boy and his family.

Cynthia Cournoyer

Nowadays, every child lost in the woods, every school-shooting, every work-place shooting, every violent act against a child, every victim of violence I ask myself, was someone autistic? The news lately gives this fear credibility. Too bad. There are not enough tears in the whole world to wash away this tragedy.


I think this Grandmother is already going through a lot. I pray that she finds peace in her life now that the Autism nightmare is over and the new nightmare for the fight of her life and freedom has begun. She will forever feel guilty of leaving the house.

I wonder what my parents would do if my spouse and I were to die. Would they know what to do? Would they be aware of the dangers? Would they even be willing the take on the task of caring for our child for the rest of their lives? Would they become involved in Autism Community Groups? Or, would they keep our child hidden in the house to never be heard or seen again?

Seems like there will never be enough awareness of Autism because there are so many differences on the spectrum. I faintly hear the drums that are beating for the revolution and each day they get louder and louder.

Lisa @ TACA who can barely type --- again

Words cannot express the grief I feel for these children taking by extreme circumstances. This poor child died in a fire. Can you even remotely imagine this happening to anyone you love let a lone a child with a debilitating disability?

We don't need anymore wake up calls such as this. This suffering and traumatic early death for children with autism needs to stop. What a heart break!


I think we do need an RIP section. Except, we are just preaching to the choir. No one outside of autism can fathom what its like for us.

Experts won't even acknowledge the numbers are growing, so they certainly aren't going to acknowledge that a tremendous number of caregivers are in crisis.

Darian (nickname)

This is what I mean! So many who our aspies like myself never see this side of autism. We see our side, which can be devestating in some ways, not so much in others. I can get along in life, provide for myself, do for myself.

People like this can not! I've talked about the hab centers on here before. It paints a traumatic portrait of a world we as aspies don't ordinarily see.

It is a world of blood curdling screams, of physical pain. I've seen a autistic consumer who rammed his head into the wall repeatingly so hard he knocked himself unconcious! I've seen those like him beat themselves with thier own fists.

I've seen them squat and use the middle of the floor as a rest room screaming as though razers were coming through the intestines! I've seen violence where staff our hit, bitten, punched, over something as small as the light was still on!

This is the side of autism so many refuse to acknowledge. They remain and hold on tightly to thier ignorence.

So parents, those who think autism is so wonderful, tell me, how do you think those who I work with day in and day out feel about thier illness? Care to look into thier eyes, as they scream out, and tell me what you see?

Because this is the reality for most on the Spectrum!

Do YOU think they think autism is wonderful?


Terribly sad. We are constantly making hard choices like this. I am in no position to judge this mother (grandmother). If he was not autistic, she would not be charged. If he was 35 and still had the same mental capacity, would she be charged? I cannot imagine being a grandma and raising a child, let alone a severely autistic child. And I've certainly felt the dread when I realize that we desperately need something at the store and my child is in a refusal-to-wear-shoes phase. I usually just make do until my husband gets home. Sounds like in this case, grandma was the only provider.

Sad all the way around. This child died because he had a life-threatening illness- and as more children get this illness, more children will die. Wake up.


These recent tragedies should be a wake up call to the parents who constantly paint autism as lovely and claim they would have their children "no other way." I truly do question the sanity of parents who can go on and on about how autism is a wonderful part of their life and anyone who feels differently is just an alarmist. Really? Read these stories and I think we can see what a tragedy autism really is. The parents in denial should crawl back into their holes.


I forgot for a moment that people who care for those with severe needs that require constant attention aren't super human.

It's a sad story. RIP Tavon.


Maybe she needed a mental health break instead of killing him like the other two moms recently. Maybe he was raging for a certain food or drink not in the house and she gave in to go buy it? I honestly don't know. It's a tragedy all around and speaks to the much larger catastrophe of autism.


I wonder why she left him alone if he already tried to nuke a cell phone in the microwave?

But, you are right Kim. Above all else- we need respite.

Most 11 year olds can stay alone- that seems to be the acceptable age. Some can even keep an eye on siblings for short periods of time. Many responsible kids can start babysitting around that time.

Most of us can forget all that.

Many of us can never leave our "autistic" children even adult "autistic" children in another room let alone "home alone"- ever.

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