Here in the Chicago area, an extremely disturbing story has been unfolding. On September 8, a 14 year old autistic boy was found lying unresponsive in his yard, in the suburb of Berwyn, and later pronounced dead. His home was discovered to be filled with over 200 animals…and filthy beyond adequate description. His mother, Lydia Price, has today been charged with two felony counts of criminal abuse and neglect of a disabled person, as well as three misdemeanor counts of child endangerment.
Matthew Degner’s autopsy determined he had suffered from bronchopneumonia, ruling it a natural cause of death. However, once the horrific conditions of his living environment were discovered, questions of whether the state of his home could have caused his illness and subsequent death surfaced.
In addition, he lived with not only his mother and grandmother, but also four other siblings – all of whom have shown at least flu-like symptoms. Three teens were taken into the custody and care of the Department of Children and Family Services, and are receiving medical care; an 18 year old sibling has also received medical care.
When authorities entered the home, they found over 200 animals amid horrendous squalor. Surrounded by inches-thick mold and feces, the hungry, sick, dehydrated, feces-covered, neglected animals were crammed into cages – 15 cats were crowded into one small cage – some along with deceased animals. In a home of approximately 1,100 square feet, investigators found dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, squirrels and raccoons, kikajous, a fruit-bat and more, plus a shocking infestation of large cockroaches. The cats are said to be in serious condition.
Neighbors have reported that the children never went to school, the family was isolated, and perhaps most frightening of all – that they witnessed someone from the house laying Matthew out on the lawn, presumably to deter anyone from entering the home. The children themselves have been found to be malnourished. The mother insists the children all recently came down with a flu and that they had been improving since.
Given the details of the condition of the home, the amount of animals kept, and the isolation of the family from the outside world, it sure seems to be a classic case of animal hoarding, to the extreme. However, given those conditions, in addition to the lack of medical care sought for the children, there is understandably a question as to whether the home itself caused the illness that Matthew died of. Hence, the criminal charges.
It will be interesting to see how this case progresses through the court system. While the endangerment to children and animals alike can never be taken lightly, there remains the belief that hoarding stems from a psychological disorder – with no criminal, let alone endangering, intents.
“The horrible thing is that it’s another case of hoarding,” said Terri Sparks, public relations director for the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge. “They think they’re helping, but it’s really just detrimental to them and to the animals.”
Should this mother be charged of the crimes and sent to prison? Or should she be charged of the lesser crimes, and directed into appropriate mental health treatment?