HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Delicia Barrow had enrolled her son Randle at The Riley Behavioral & Educational Center in Huntsville. The center provides educational services and research targeted therapies to children ages 12 months through 14 years diagnosed with Autism, Pervasive Development Delay, and other related developmental disorders.
Tuesday, Riley Center staff spoke exclusively with WHNT News 19 about how staff and students are dealing with the death of young Randle and his mother and about what they describe as the ‘relentless’ action taken to reach out to the Barrow family in the days leading up to last Saturday.
Behavioral consultant Susannah Torres works at the Riley Center hand-in-hand with a classroom instructor. Torres works on behavioral programming and develops programs to help autistic students with any academic deficits they may exhibit.
Torres was in the classroom with Randle Barrow every single day he was at school.
“He was very bright. He caught on to new concepts very quickly. He had made a lot of progress with us and he came into the classroom every day with a smile,” said Torres.
The students at the Riley Center have varying levels of communication and cognitive ability. Torres said Randle was one of the more verbal children and said he was always concerned and showing affection for his fellow classmates.
Torres knew Randle, the cherub-faced little boy she says always greeted everyone by name, almost as intimately as anyone in his life. But, she also knew Delicia Barrow, a woman she describes as nothing short of a doting mother.
“Delicia was very engaged from the first time I ever met her,” Torres remembers. “She was always very proactive. She had records of all of his grades and work samples from his prior schooling. She herself had been an educator and was very knowledgeable about the process of education in general and the difficulties that working with a child on the spectrum can sometimes bring when they’re learning.”
Torres said initially when Randle didn’t show up for school last Wednesday their concern was for Delicia Barrow’s health. Torres said there had been some custodial issues due to Delicia’s hospitalization and surgery and that a temporary guardian had been caring for Randle.
Initially the intent of the Riley Center staff was to clarify where the custodial situation stood with Delicia Barrow, Randle and his temporary guardian.
Torres said last Thursday morning before students had even arrived, Delicia Barrow called to say she and Randle would be arriving late that day.
“When they had still not arrived later that morning we became very concerned,” Torres said.
Torres said staff began making calls to try to determine if the mother and son needed help. Were they having car trouble? Did Randle need a ride to class? Was he ill? But they never made contact with Delicia Barrow again – ever.
“At that time, we started calling the Huntsville Police Department and the Department of Human Resources and HPD was very responsive. They were at the house within the hour,” said Torres. Police were not able to make any contact at the Barrow home either, according to Torres.
Torres said by Friday, they felt the situation was even more urgent and they arranged for police to meet them at the Barrow home for another well-being check.
“At that point, they had told us they could not enter the house as the police department unless they heard someone calling for help or could look in through a window and see someone laying in the floor where they could possibly be hurt or they had a 911 call hangup,” Torres explained.
She said even Riley Center staff took it upon themselves to bang on doors and windows and call out to both Randle and Delicia alongside police.
“Police were very diligent. They were very responsive every time that we called,” Torres said.
Torres said what she is personally having the most difficult time with right now is the ‘what if.’
“I mean, we just ask ourselves if we could have just gotten in there sooner.”
Torres said in the midst of all their grief, questions and doubt, she has a message for parents and the community as whole.
“Parenting for everyone is difficult and for people who have children with additional challenges it can sometimes seem daunting and completely overwhelming – I want them to know there is always, always a resource you can reach out to,” Torres said.
Torres concludes while it is certainly of no consequence or condolence now, she wants the community to know Delicia Barrow had multiple lifelines thrown to her – that she was not ignored, neglected or disenfranchised in any way.
“She had people in the community. She had the staff here at the center. And then, once it became closer to a crisis situation the police reached out to her numerous times, performing multiple well-being checks. They went and knocked on every door and called out. There were many opportunities where she could have reached out just said, please, I just need somebody to take him.”
Riley Center executive director Melody Crane, mother of an autistic child herself, explains no one ever expects to get this kind of news and the hours and days of not knowing really took a toll on her staff.
“We were all greatly shocked in the outcome and were not at all prepared for that,” said Crane. “My immediate attention turned to the family and our staff. As the leader of our organization, it is my responsibility to take care of our staff and our families and our children.”
Crane said The Riley Center staff immediately reached out to their collaborative program at Glenwood to make their psychologist Dr. Diedra Hayman available to staff and family members.
“We had most of our staff come on Sunday to participate,” said Crane. “We knew we had to come together before Monday to grieve and to work through some of the shock. Nothing prepares you for this and everyone deals with death and tragedy on a very individual basis. At this point we are trying to support each other and be strong for each other and right now focus on talking care of our children here.”
That task, of course, is a totally different matter. After all, how do you explain to a classroom of young, autistic students with varying levels of communicative and cognitive skills their beloved classmate was murdered?
Staff deferred to the expertise of Dr. Hayman who has worked in the field with families with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
“One of her recommendations was to handle this on a very individual basis in light of the fact many of our children have differing functioning abilities,” explained Crane. “Some children may be aware that Randle is missing and others because of their location in the building would not be as aware of his absence at this point.”
“We wanted to meet with our families because we do realize families have their own ways of dealing with death. We want to make sure, as with all the services we provide, that we are an organization that comes alongside these families – in that we are deferring to our families in how they wish that to be handled,” Crane said.
“In honor of Delicia and Randle we all want to focus our energies right now on making sure this does not ever happen to another child or family.”
For now Crane said, Randle Barrow’s name, emblazoned with Sharpie marker on laminated construction paper stars and daily skill charts peppered across his former classroom will remain just as they are. Removing them, she said is too painful a reminder that Randle will never again make that procession from the car line to the learning space boasting that gleaming smile no one will ever forget.
Crane said, if anything Randle and Delicia’s deaths teaches you, you can never assume, never be too cautious or aggressive. She said prevention is where her staff will now focus their pain and their energies.
“Randle’s not going to be with us any longer,” Crane paused before continuing, “and there’s always going to be that empty spot in his classroom – that’s not going to change. We’re determined to use all of our efforts to ensure that there is not another child that winds up like Randle.”
Crane says the center wants to develop a plan to advocate for children and families in a manner that would somehow alert us to families who may be in crisis.
Crane said that will include advocating on the national level for reform in social services protocol across the board so that action is always taken the moment a child with disabilities is unaccounted for.
WHNT News 19 will continue to follow up with The Riley Center on the staff’s efforts to ensure Randle Barrow’s death is not in vain.
Below is a list of community resources for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their parents:
These are people who can provide Applied Behavior Analysis. They offer different types of services, some school-setting, in-home therapy, etc. We recommend you contact each provider to see what fits your child and your family’s needs:
Behavioral Intervention Services, Inc.
Jane Veverka, M.Ed., BCBA
Autism & Behavior Therapist/Consultant
Applied Behavioral Concepts, Inc.
Best Solution, LLC
Behavioral and Educational Services and Therapy
Kimberly Marsh, M.Ed., BCaBA
The Riley Behavioral & Education Center
Kimberly Travis, M. Ed., BCBA
Tam Dahlgren, M.Ed., BCBA
Jessica Epperson, M.S., BCBA
Katie Divelbiss, M.A., BCBA
Holly Sharpe, M. Ed., BCBA
Robert Phillips, M.A., BCBA
4092 South Memorial Parkway
Huntsville, AL 35802