Thursday, April 12, 2007

Florida: Disabled child's body found, parents want investigation

Plea to Crist: Help us find our son

April 7, 2007
By Carol Marbin Miller

Florida Panhandle: Four years after Franklin Weekley vanished at a state institution for disabled people, his family has asked Gov. Charlie Crist to find out what happened. State disability authorities insisted that Franklin Weekley, a severely disabled teenager, needed to live in a locked-down institution for his own protection.

They committed him, against his family's will, to a Marianna hospital, regularly locked him in seclusion, and used so much force to restrain him one night that he needed stitches on his face.

Franklin vanished from the hospital the next morning, Dec. 6, 2002.

Two years later, workers discovered a pile of human bones in a rotted, collapsed boiler building at the Sunland Training Center where he had lived. Underwear with Franklin's name was found near the bones. The teeth matched Franklin's dental records. But Florida disability leaders deny they were Franklin's remains.

Now, the Weekleys have asked Gov. Charlie Crist to help them bring peace to their family, which has never stopped searching for the handsome, dark-haired youth.

Citing the governor's advocacy for the parents of another Panhandle boy, Martin Anderson, who died at a juvenile justice boot camp last year, the Weekleys have asked Crist to find the truth about what happened to their son.

''It's the worst hurt you could ever go through,'' said Eddie Weekley, 59, of Milton, near Pensacola. ``We miss him very bad.''

''I still look for him to come home,'' he added. ``You will always do that for somebody you love so much.''

A spokeswoman for Crist declined to discuss Franklin's case with a reporter.

''The letter has been received by the general counsel's office of the governor, and they will review and research the situation, and brief the governor on it as quickly as they feel they have all the information,'' said Crist's deputy press secretary, Kathy Torian.

``We have not even reviewed the letter yet.''

Franklin, whose parents also are disabled, was diagnosed with moderate mental retardation with an IQ in the 50s, a seizure disorder, a severe speech impairment and a history of difficult behavior.

Department of Children & Families administrators said he set fires, attacked teachers and threw tantrums. In November 2001, Panhandle prosecutors asked a judge to order Franklin locked up at an institution for people with mental retardation. They submitted a second petition the following May; both were granted.

At a Nov. 11, 2002, hearing -- the third involuntary-commitment proceeding -- Franklin, then 17, haltingly testified. ''I want to go home,'' he said, according to a transcript.

''I ain't satisfied with the way he was treated,'' his father testified. ``That's where he belongs, with us.''

But a judge ordered that Franklin remain at Sunland. In her order, Circuit Judge Marci Levin Goodman wrote that Franklin ''lacks basic survival and self-care skills to such a degree that close supervision'' was necessary.

Franklin never was happy at the institution, his family members and attorneys say. His parents, siblings and an aunt from Wyoming complained Franklin appeared overly medicated whenever they visited; and that he drooled and slurred his speech. One of his attorneys, Artie Shimek of Pensacola, says Franklin was ''taken to the mat'' -- restrained -- regularly.


On one occasion about two months before Franklin disappeared, Shimek says, Franklin was held in seclusion for an entire weekend.

His last day at the center, Dec. 5, 2002, was his worst ever, Shimek said. Franklin was sick with a fever and was forcibly restrained four times. At 7:15 that morning, as he was restrained, he suffered a ''deep laceration'' to his ear requiring five stitches, records show.

In their letter to the governor, the Weekleys' attorneys say Franklin's cottage was being supervised that night by two ''human service workers.'' One was a janitor mopping the floors. The other was doing laundry.

It was freezing outside the morning Franklin disappeared. A police bulletin said he was wearing blue jeans and a dark brown or black jacket. He was five-foot-eight, and weighed 154 pounds.
Hospital notes from Dec. 6 say staff waited almost three hours after the teen was discovered missing before calling the Weekleys. Records show the hospital staff refused to allow Eddie Weekley to search for his son on the hospital grounds.

''Franklin's father cried during my conversation with him,'' Stephanie Mercer, a Sunland worker, wrote in her notes four days after Franklin's disappearance. ``Mr. Weekley indicated he was worried about his son and was anxious to know his whereabouts.''

The search was suspended Dec. 17, 2002, records show. But weeks after workers stopped looking, family members continued to scour the Panhandle -- and ''sightings'' of the youth still were reported, hospital records say.


The bones were found Oct. 28, 2004. Contractors were at Sunland, which originally was part of an old Air Force base, to tear down an old boiler room building that had been used for storage for several years.

Weeks before, some of the building's walls had simply fallen off.

''During the operation the work crew discovered what appeared to be a human skull in a basement,'' a Jackson County Sheriff's Office report said.

``The work crew recovered the skull thinking that it might be something that had been stored in the building.''

After two days, the sheriff's deputies had recovered all but ``one patella, three ribs, three teeth from the maxilla and numerous hand and foot bones.''

A sheriff's office report said police ``were satisfied that what could be recovered had been recovered.''

Franklin's family will not be satisfied until they know what happened to him.

In the letter to Crist's office last week, family attorneys Shimek and Karen A. Gievers pleaded for the governor's help:

'Please help provide justice for Franklin and his parents, have a full investigation that comes up with the answers, not more shrugs and `I don't knows,' and get to the bottom of this.''