Student leaders remember slain disabled


Emily K. Rabasto

ASB Student Senate Senator Shayana Mendes weeps as the names of hundreds of disabled people who were killed by their parents or caregivers are read during a candlelight vigil at the California Capitol. (Photo by Emily K. Rabasto)

Melissa Hurtado and Melissa Hurtado

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) held a candlelight vigil at Capitol Park on Friday March 7 to remember those disabled people who have been murdered by their  family or caretakers.

ASAN is a non profit organization that advocates for those with autism and also aims to educate communities and improve public perception of autism.

The annual event was organized by the  president of the Sacramento chapter of ASAN and American River College Student Senate Sen. Shayana Mendes.

A group of approximately ten people assembled near the capitol at 6 p.m. to mourn the lives lost and share their  personal experiences about being mistreated by caretakers.

Karen Simmons, a member of ASAN Sacramento told the story about how her life was threatened by an at home nurse when the caretaker put a knife to her throat. Simmons also has lost her ability to sing after another caretaker put AJAX cleanser in her food, permanently damaging her vocal chords.

After hearing Simmons story, the group decided to sing a song in her honor. The tear filled group sang an emotional rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

It’s been over two years since George Hodgins, a 22-year-old autistic man, was shot and murdered by his mother, who then committed suicide. The death of Hodgins inspired these candlelight vigils to be held across the country.

Mendes believes that parents and caretakers do this because, “they feel stressed and frustrated, because they themselves don’t understand what disabled individuals go through.”

ASAN is run by people with autism and the non-profit organization does not believe in research or cures for those in the autism spectrum.

Zachary Miller, a second semester ARC student studying business and marketing and the ASAN Sacramento vice president spoke in support of social equality for the disabled community.

“How many more people have to die before the world sees we have the right to live?” said Miller. We’re sick and tired of people with disabilities being discriminated; we’re sick and tired of people with disabilities being taken advantage of.”

The group took turns reading a list of over 60 names of victims. Along with their names and ages, they described the manner in which the victims were killed.

Hearing this proved too much to bear for the audience who wept and shook their heads in disbelief.

Among the group was another Student Senate Senator, Laurie Jones, who said she was happy to be there supporting a fellow board member.

Jones said the issue touched her heart and was shocked to think that people who are “disabled would be murdered at all, much less by their parents and guardians.”

Jones says that she has always keeps in mind and supports the vulnerable populations on campus when acting as a student leader.

“One of the things that’s really tragic is not the fact that it was autistic kids that that lost their life, but that anyone would lose their life killed in cold blood by someone who was supposed to love and protect and care for them, that is heartbreaking, autistic or not,” said another attendee Bret Riley, a 22-year-old theater major at Sierra College.

Mendes and Miller hope to establish a club on campus to further advocate for those with disabilities.