An 87-year-old Florida woman is being charged with second-degree murder after killing her 30-year-old autistic grandson. Lillian Parks claimed she killed Joel Parks because she was dying, and feared no one would be there to care for him after she was gone — yet Parks’ remaining family is crying foul.
Joel, who lived at a group home during the week and with his grandmother on the weekends, was found by his sister, Yvonne Parks. She said when she returned to the apartment on Saturday night, she saw her grandmother and brother sleeping on the couch in front of the TV, and thought nothing of it. But the next morning, she found Joel still in the same place, with Lillian awake. “I said, ‘Grams, it doesn’t look like he’s breathing,’” Yvonne told WWSB. “And that’s when she said clear as day, ‘Because he’s not.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean he’s not? Like what are you talking about?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I’m doing us both in, we’re going together.’”
Lillian then admitted to police that she gave Joel a drug overdose. “This is a process where it was thought out, planned and she took a human life,” Bradenton Police Captain Brian Thiers told WFLA. And though Lillian claimed no one would be there to care for him after she died, and that he was estranged from his family, Yvonne and the people who cared for him tell a different story.
“Joel was one of the happiest guys that you could ever meet. He was also one of the strongest huggers that you would ever meet, he would come up to you and give you that bear hug and you knew you had been hugged,” Tom Waters, CEO of Easterseals of Southwest Florida, told WFLA. “(The) Easterseals family is in mourning, the disabilities community is in mourning, lots of people are in mourning because… everything in this situation is tragic. We want to express our condolences because as we mourn, I know they do, but we’re celebrating him. We’re celebrating the life that he had and the life he shared with us.”
Toshia Fretz, Joel’s mother, and James Fretz, his stepfather, both denied they were estranged. “For her to say that he was estranged from his mother is a big lie,” James said to WWSB, while Toshia added, “I have never been estranged from my children, by choice. I would’ve come and gotten Joel. [Lillian] had planned two weeks prior to that, that she was gonna let [Yvonne] come and take him back to Ohio!”
Yvonne, for her part, seemed to have a more sinister explanation, noting that Lillian she had asked her to come to Florida from Ohio to help clean out her apartment and take Joel back with her. “Because she wasn’t sure if she was going to commit suicide or if she was going to go through with having the hiatal hernia surgery and go to a nursing home afterwards,” she explained to WWSB, then adding through sobs, “She took my brother for no reason. And to sit there and say that there was no option, that was the only way, that’s crap! There was plenty of people!”
People with disabilities face violence at alarmingly high rates, and are up to three times more likely to be victims of violent crimes. For many people, a life with a disability is one not worth living, but the truth is, all people have a right to life. All people, regardless of their abilities, have inherent human value and dignity. And no person should be harmed simply because one person decides they might be a burden.
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