Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday 21 March 2001

Montreal mother charged in disabled girl's death

Police believe depressed woman served 14-year-old 'poison cocktail' before drinking it herself

Gary Dimmock and Jean-Francois Bertrand
The Ottawa Citizen; with files from The Montreal Gazette

This picture of 14-year-old Chelsea Craig appeared on a poster at the Lindsay Place High School that Chelsea attended. The poster read: The Lindsay Place community extends its sympathy to Chelsea's family and friends.

Reseau Tva, LCN / Rachel Capra Craig, 46, shown being carried out of an ambulance yesterday in an image taken from television, was charged with first degree murder in the death of her disabled daughter, Chelsea, 14, who consumed what police called a 'poison cocktail.'

Reseau Tva, LCN / Officials remove Chelsea's body from their home in Pointe-Claire, Que.

POINTE-CLAIRE, Que. -- With her mother's help, 14-year-old Chelsea Craig took her last long walk on Monday afternoon, slowly making her way around their quiet neighbourhood on Montreal's West Island.

The school bus had just dropped her off in front of the family's tidy, red-brick home.

Rachel Capra Craig had stood waiting for her only daughter, a teenager whose severe neurological disorder -- Rett Syndrome -- left her with the mind of an infant and without coherent speech. Described as shy and physically disabled, Chelsea was almost always seen at her mother's side.

Together, for the final time, they struggled along Elgin Avenue, then back home and upstairs just after 4 p.m.

In the girl's bedroom, police allege that Mrs. Capra Craig, severely depressed, brewed a "poison cocktail" of drugs. Seconds later, police believe, the mother administered the lethal mixture to Chelsea and tucked the girl into bed. Then, police say, she drank the "cocktail" herself.

Mrs. Capra Craig, 46, is charged with first-degree murder and is recovering from the overdose in hospital under police guard. After poisoning herself in what detectives are calling a botched murder-suicide, Mrs. Capra Craig staggered down the stairs and collapsed at the bottom.

Minutes later, her husband, Radio Canada International announcer Jim Craig, arrived home from work to find his wife barely conscious. She couldn't get up or speak, let alone explain what happened.

In a panic, Mr. Craig ran to a neighbour's house and called 911, police say. Paramedics rushed to the two-storey home, where they discovered the dead girl and began treating her mother.

On a gurney, Mrs. Capra Craig appeared confused and covered in sweat as paramedics wheeled her to a waiting ambulance outside.

Police detectives later questioned Mr. Craig while forensic investigators searched the home for evidence. They could be seen combing the girl's upstairs bedroom while patrol officers cordoned off the street.

After interviewing Mr. Craig, 57, detectives concluded that his wife had been suffering from bouts of deep depression. Homicide detectives have yet to determine a final motive behind the killing, saying only that Chelsea's mother had been under intense pressure.

The stay-at-home mother had enlisted a community health nurse to help care for her daughter. Chelsea still wore diapers, and because her disorder had robbed her of muscle control, the girl's hands were in perpetual motion.

Rett Syndrome is a neurological disorder that afflicts almost exclusively females. While children born with the syndrome appear normal in the first 18 months of life, motor skills soon deteriorate.

Chelsea Craig was in what doctors call the final phase of the syndrome, highlighted by limited mobility. At this stage, patients suffer from seizures and unusual breathing patterns that interfere with body movement.

Neighbour Chad Barnes, 21, thought nothing when he noticed the ambulance across the street. "She used to have seizures and the ambulance had been there two or three times last summer," he said.

The allegation that Mrs. Capra Craig, in a depressed state, killed her own daughter has devastated the quiet, middle-class neighbourhood on Montreal's West Island.

Next-door neighbour Ron McCune called it a "sad, sad case." Like other neighbours, he described Chelsea as a shy girl who could always be seen "clinging" to her mother or the visiting nurse.

She typically played in the back yard though lately she was rarely seen outside except to catch the school bus.

Darlene Berringer knew Chelsea nearly a decade ago when the girl attended Giant Steps School in Westmount. She remembers a five-year-old child who was "a joy" despite her disabilities.

"For us she was just a delightful child, who wanted to learn and develop and grow and was open to all kinds of new things," said Ms. Berringer. "Our eyes light up when we think of her."

Giant Steps has a special program for children who suffer from Rett Syndrome.

"She was more atypical -- she was intellectually handicapped and had a seizure disorder," Ms. Berringer added. "It's hard to have a child with a problem, but there are such pleasures in the child too."

In the year Chelsea spent at Giant Steps, staff were amazed by how quickly she progressed.

"She wanted to be nurtured and she gave back. For us, she was a joy to have."

When Chelsea took her last walk around the block Monday, she and her mother were accompanied by the girl's pet bull dog, named Penny.

Neighbours and detectives paint the Craig family as "quiet and ordinary," perhaps betraying the turmoil they endured trying to cope with Chelsea's illness.

Detectives say Mrs. Capra Craig is not yet fit to be questioned.

At Chelsea's high school, where she'd been attending classes for the past year, grieving students and teachers placed her photograph in the lobby. The picture shows a young girl with dark hair rolling a basketball on a desk.

In a note below the photograph, the students and teachers expressed sympathy to the girl's family and friends.

Today, her mother is scheduled to enter a plea on the first-degree murder charge. If she isn't able to attend court, prosecutors said yesterday the suspect can enter her plea from her hospital bed.

Copyright 2001 Ottawa Citizen Group Inc.