Globe and Mail

Mother charged after disabled daughter's death

By INGRID PERITZ
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
POSTED AT 7:34 AM EST Wednesday, March 21

Photo
Rachel Capra Craig, 46, is helped out of an ambulance on Tuesday in Pointe-Claire, Que. Photo: Reseau TVA/LCN/CP



Chelsea Craig, 14, is seen on an undated handout photo captured from television. Photo: Reseau TVA/LCN/CP

Montreal — She was described as a shy and sweet teenaged girl who struggled with her debilitating handicap and would cling to her doting mother outside their red-brick suburban home whenever strangers approached.

This week, in a tragedy that has shocked the community and raised the spectre of a mercy killing, Chelsea Craig was found dead in her bedroom after allegedly ingesting a potent poison cocktail.

Her mother was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder.

Montreal police investigators say Rachel Capra Craig, 46, was severely depressed about her 14-year-old daughter's condition and the constant care she required.

On the day of Chelsea's death, Ms. Craig tried to take her own life by consuming a mix of drugs. Discovered by her husband Monday as he returned from work, Ms. Craig was taken to hospital. She is now out of danger.

"We know [the mother] had to look after her continually," Lieutenant-Detective Jean Francois Martin said. "She was like a 14-year-old who was still a baby."

Chelsea suffered from a rare neurological disorder called Rett's Syndrome, which strikes girls almost exclusively. They develop normally for the first six to 18 months of their lives, then gradually lose the ability to speak, walk or control their hands. They withdraw, suffer severe seizures, and can stop breathing at any moment.

The demands of caring for the girls place a tremendous strain on families, according to support groups.

"Parents have to feed them, clothe them, toilet them and bathe them," said Jim Chism, vice-president of the Quebec Rett's Syndrome Association. "For these families, the stress is really great."

Mr. Chism, who knows the family, said both Chelsea's parents battled to obtain help for their girl. "They loved her and were fighting for services," he said, also describing them as quiet and withdrawn.

But Ms. Craig, who stayed home to care for her daughter and followed the latest developments in research on her child's syndrome, had the most difficulty with her condition.

"She was just struggling," Mr. Chism said. "It's very sad. She was much more strongly affected than the father."

According to people who know her, Ms. Craig was a devoted mother who provided constant care for her daughter. Chelsea attended a regular high school near her home in Pointe Claire, and a nurse checked on her several times a week.

From all appearances, the girl was deeply dependent on her mother. A neighbour said he would see the two outdoors together. Chelsea wore a helmet to protect her during seizures.

"She didn't mix with other kids. She was very shy," said the neighbour, who asked to remain anonymous. "If you approached her on the street, she would put her head down and cling to her mother just like a baby."

Despite the severe difficulties, girls and women with Rett's Syndrome can learn, live into middle age, show emotions and develop personalities. They are known for their expressive eyes.

"They're little people, no matter how severely affected they are," Mr. Chism said. He said he visited the Craig home a year ago and saw Chelsea.

"She was checking everything out with her eyes," he said. "She knew what she liked and didn't like. She was a sweet little thing. Everyone is devastated by this."

Rett's Syndrome strikes between one girl in 10,000 and one in 23,000. It is most often misdiagnosed as autism or cerebral palsy.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.