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A youthful tragedy

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January 6, 2007

A youthful tragedy

 

According to most sources, the tragic death of two young boys on the train tracks near Hawkins on September 21st was likely suicide. Christopher Ladell Hill, 17, and Harry Tyrone Rutledge, 15, apparently laid down on the train tracks and died of blunt trauma when a train hit them.


Both were troubled youths who had recently run away from a group foster home near Tyler. According to a report in The Houston Chronicle, Rutledge had been declared a ward of the state last May when his mother, who lives near Austin, told state child care workers she was afraid to have him in their house. The same report states that Rutledge's mother told a state case worker that her son had "issues with aggression."

Hill's mother died when he was four. His father was never a part of his life. A decade ago, Hill was a part of a story that attracted national attention. In 1995, his uncle, Eugene Helm, then just 25, moved to Dallas to take care of two nieces and three nephews. Hill was just six at the time. After The Dallas Morning News ran a front page story about Helm, the family was caught up in a wave of media attention. Family members appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "The Today Show," and in newspapers across the country. More than $70,000 was raised including $5,000 from Black Entertainment Television, according to The Chronicle report.

When the attention faded and most of the money went into a trust fund for the children when they turned 18, Helm moved the family to Chicago. He stuck to his duty for nine years, then in May of 2004, Helm boarded a train to Dallas with Hill, then 15, and a cousin. When they arrived, he went to Child Protective Services and told a social worker he could no longer afford to care for the children and left without leaving an address, according to the Chronicle story. He told the paper he was "burned out" under the weight of his instant family. His wife, Denise, now separated from him, said her husband "was on the edge of a nervous breakdown" when he gave up the children.

The Chronicle report also notes that a Smith County sheriff's investigator turned over the boy's files from Azleway, the group foster home, to authorities in Hawkins. His report indicates that the psychological files showed that both had suffered from depression.

The pair had made their way to Hawkins from Tyler and had stuck close to the high school where they began to attract attention. Around midday on the 19th, the principal asked them to leave the campus. Later that afternoon, Hawkins Police Chief Ron Voda told them they were not supposed to be on campus. But the Chronicle reported Voda, whose department had not been notified of the missing pair, said he had no reason to run them in.

On the Monday before they died, they had taken a set of keys left in an equipment box during football practice and had helped themselves to a supply of candy and soda pop.

According to the Chronicle report, they camped just outside a fence behind the football field, possibly through Wednesday night then climbed into a pickup that was parked on the school grounds with keys in the ignition. The gates were locked, and they apparently tried to drive across a creek where they became stuck. It is thought that shortly afterward, they headed to the railroad tracks.

Lt. Randell told The Gazette December 30th that he is convinced that suicide was the cause of death. He stated that the coroner has officially ruled the cause of death as "death by train." He said neither was restrained and were uninjured when hit by the train. According to The Chronicle report, the director of Alzeway Boys' Ranch and the boys' relatives don't agree with the suicide theory. However, according to the Chronicle, for Randell, there are ample signposts pointing to suicide in the teens' psychological files, their family histories and his own reconstruction of their final five days on the run. He said they were abandoned by their families, they "were running from Azleway and from us."

Last Updated on Friday, 06 March 2009 05:19  

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