Michigan Murder-Suicide: Father Feared Lack Of Support For Special Needs Son After His Death

A father and his special needs son were found dead in what police are calling a murder-suicide in Melvindale, Michigan. The neighbors say they are in shock, because 58-year-old John Richett and his 20-year-old special needs son, Nicholas, had a very close bond. The father and son were found in their own home on Caryn Street. Neighbors say that Richett was devoted to his son, who suffered from severe autism.

“You could tell he really loved Nicky,” neighbor John Rowe told WJBK News after the apparent murder-suicide was uncovered. “He took care of him. Although Nicky was really tough to handle.”

Rowe explained that, while Richett did say that things were getting harder and harder, he would have never expected Richett to murder his own son and then commit suicide. According to police, John Richett was suffering from health problems that were threatening his life, and they believe that Richett could not fathom how his son with special needs would be cared for without creating a burden on the family.

“The gentleman took his son’s life and then his own life,” Police Chief Chad Hayse told reporters. “He feared his medical problems would take his life and then he wouldn’t be around to care for his son and he didn’t want to burden the family.”

Michigan has seen cuts in public funding for services that, many speculate on social media, could have once been able to provide for Nicky after his father’s death, and are blaming the system for this murder-suicide. Still, however, many remember the story of Kelli Rai Stapleton, the mother of an autistic teen, who attempted to commit a murder-suicide when the insurance suddenly stopped paying for her daughter’s treatment and her education plan changed. Stapleton was also from Michigan, but after an evaluation, she was actually found to be legally insane. Many argue that the special needs of these families aren’t the real root cause of these types of murder-suicides, but rather underlying mental illnesses, like Kelli is said to have suffered from by a forensic psychiatrist.

Thankfully, Stapleton failed in her attempt to kill her daughter and herself. The forensic psychiatrist, Carole Lieberman, testified that the woman suffered from PTSD, bipolar disorder, and was legally insane when she attempted the murder-suicide, leading most to assume the murder-suicide attempt stemmed from something more than just feeling overwhelmed. Nevertheless, parents and advocates of special needs adults say that the system is not supporting their needs. Last month, Mike DeCenso, a special education teacher in Michigan who teaches high school students with severe autism, said that there really is a need for a transitional-type program to help young adults with special needs.

“It dawned on me that we really don’t know what it looks like when they leave school,” DeCenso said, according to C&G Newspapers. “We don’t know if we are even making the right recommendations. We need to know.”

Support services are, reportedly, severely lacking for adults with special needs in the state. Earlier this year, Interlochen Public Radio featured a story on the difficult situation that special needs adults in Michigan are facing due to budget cuts. Karl Kovacs, CEO of Northern Lakes Community Mental Health, said at that time that his facility had to lay off 15 employees and cut payments to service providers.

“We were cut about $3.5 million in general fund dollars and we were cut by about $1.5 million in Medicaid dollars.”

Jake Rossi, the Michigan father of a developmentally disabled adult, said that his son was staying in an adult residential home until some funding was cut in Michigan.

“Sad as I am about it, I’m not going to live forever and he’s going to have to make a transition. We’ve worked really hard to get him into a social situation that he’s comfortable with and … I don’t see how Community Health can take care of their budgetary problems at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

After the murder-suicide in Melvindale, officials in the state said that anyone who is facing a situation similar to what John Richett faced should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Pat Smith of the Michigan Department of Community Health said that there actually are resources available. It is unclear if any medication might have been used to treat Richett’s condition or Richett’s condition itself could have impaired his judgement enough to make him feel that a murder-suicide was the only option.

[Photo via Melvindale, Michigan Website]