On June 28, Eva Cameron of Algonquin, Illinois, drove her 19-year-old developmentally disabled daughter, Lynn, to Caryville, Tennessee, and left her at The Big Orange Bar with no money, no ID or other belongings.
Caryville Police Chief Johnny Jones told MSNBC that, while physically healthy and showing no signs of abuse, Lynn was “couldn’t tell us anything,” not even her name. He also said that “People at the bar said it looked like the door opened and somebody pushed her in.”
The police put up photos with Lynn’s picture everywhere and Tennessee’s department of chid services took custody of her, as it was not clear how old Lynn was. Police received more than 200 tips before an Illinois bus driver who had driven developmentally disabled children contacted the police on Monday, to say that she recognized Lynn.
Cameron was contacted and returned to Caryville on Tuesday and told police:
“I don’t want her. Do what you want to with her.”
Why Cameron left Lynn, who has now been placed with adult protective services, in Caryville is not certain. According to the Illinois’ Northwest Herald, Cameron claimed that her “church had directed her to Caryville because it had a large concentration of Baptists.” She then said that she chose Tennessee because the state “has the No.1 health care system in the United States of America” and that all the attention was “just a big hoopla out of nothing.”
To the shock of police chief Jones and to my own shock, Cameron will not face any criminal charges for abandoning her 19-year-old year developmentally disabled daughter at a bar in a different state than she resides in. According to the district attorney of Campbell County, Cameron has not violated any Tennessee laws: As Lynn is 19, her mother technically does not have legal guardianship over her.
Jones wants Tennessee law to be changed so that what Cameron did is against the law. Other disability advocates agree:
Ben Harrington, executive director of the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee, told msnbc.com that the Tennessee community is “just livid” that Eva isn’t being punished for leaving Lynn.
“The law has been exposed as a problem,” Harrington said. “This is a loophole in the law: If she were a minor child, I’m assuming legal charges would be filed.”
As the mother of a 15-year-old son, Charlie, who on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, I am still trying to get my thoughts around what Cameron did. There are plenty — plenty — of challenges in taking care of Charlie, who will need support for all of his life. With every difficult moment, my husband Jim and I only feel our love for Charlie grow and our determination to help him have a good life with us.
What Cameron did is, to me, completely beyond the scope of thought. What kind of pain and trauma must Lynn have experienced and be still experiencing, to find herself in a completely new environment and without any familiar faces? While MSNBC says that Lynn’s “mental capacity is no more than that of a 3-year-old,” it is certainly possible that she is more aware of what is going on than anyone can discern. Charlie definitely has intellectual disabilities but he is always aware of much more than he seems to be.
We have been repeatedly reminded (a good thing) by Charlie’s school and our lawyer that we need to establish legal guardianship of him when he turns 18. You can be sure, I’m planning to start that process — which can take a long time — the moment Charlie turns 17, to give us plenty of time. Cameron had clearly not done this for Lynn.
Jones says that Lynn is “in real good care now. That’s the only good thing that came out of this: I know she’ll be taken care of.”
Tennessee needs to change its laws: Abandoning individuals with developmental disabilities who need care should not, cannot, be allowed.
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