Robert Robinson and his mother Angie felt peace walking by the ocean on the Butze Rapids trail in Prince Rupert.For the big 16-year-old — so severely autistic that he could not speak — the rainforest trail had become the only place he could be calm.
At home and at school he expressed his frustration — his distance from the world — by head-butting walls, head-butting people, pushing and punching his shy, loving, 100-pound single mother.
And so Angie Robinson and her sister Michelle Watson took Robert to the five-kilometre trail every day.
On April 2 — when Angie Robinson told her sister she was too tired to make the hike because Robert had been acting up all night — something seemed wrong.
“The Butze trail was the only place where Robert and Angie could find freedom,” relative Ron Watson said in an interview. “Angie loved him more than anything on Earth. The shock for us was that she took his life.”
After the mother and son were found dead in their Prince Rupert home on April 3, RCMP in Prince Rupert confirmed to relatives that Angie Robinson killed her son and then took her own life.
Her suicide note, together with her last post on Facebook, show that she believed she could no longer manage Robert, her family says, and that Family Services could not provide adequate support.
Ron Watson said the family wants to share the events leading up to the tragedy, hoping to increase support for autistic children in northern B.C.
He said Robert didn’t know his own strength, and his mother was finding it increasingly difficult to take him outside. Watson, who is 5-foot-11 and weighs 240 pounds, said Robert was taller and outweighed him by about 30 pounds.
In early March, while riding with Angie in her pickup truck, Robert smashed his head through the rear window. He got worse in the following weeks. After another episode his mother took him to a hospital, where he was fed a steady stream of Ativan pills for two hours until he was sedated, the family said.
She and Robert were released, taking home about a month’s supply of Ativan — several hundred pills, according to the family. Robinson told her family she realized after the incident at the hospital that “she had lost Robert” and couldn’t care for him anymore.
Ron Watson said he and Angie Robinson went together to a Family Services office in late March, pleading for help. Robinson spoke with a social worker and asked for a long-term placement for Robert. According to the family, on or around April 2, she was informed a residential placement for Robert wasn’t possible.
At 11:56 a.m. on April 2, Angie Robinson wrote a last Facebook post: “More, more, more needs to be done for our teens with special needs, they are neglected ... Canada needs more residential and respite care for families hoping to keep their children at home.”
Michelle Watson called her sister at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon, and was told to call back the next day. On April 3 Angie Robinson didn’t answer calls and texts.
At 5 p.m. the Watsons went to the Robinson home. Ron pounded on the door for 20 minutes, with no response. They called police, and braced themselves for the worst.
“The officers broke down the door and then came out, and told us not to come inside,” Ron Watson said. “They told us that Robert was found resting peacefully in his bed.”
The family believes Angie Robinson fed Robert a lethal dose of Ativan.
“We are not blaming anyone, but we are looking for more autism services in the North so that other families don’t have to go through this,” Ron Watson said. “This is devastating.”
Karen Johnston, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Children and Family Development, said the ministry cannot comment on the case for privacy reasons. The ministry provides $6,000 per year for families to assist with “out-of-school intervention services” for autistic children aged six to 18.
Inclusion B.C. executive director Faith Bodnar said the ministry significantly reduced funds available to families with autistic children several years ago, and in isolated communities “accesses to resources can be much more limited.”
“I think, unfortunately, this tragic event speaks for itself,” Bodnar said.
“People don’t do these things if they are well supported. This family was alone, marginalized and not taken care of by the MCFD.”