The story broke into the national news the week between Christmas and New Year's. A rich Pennsylvania couple, Richard and Dawn Kelso, had been arrested and charged with child abandonment after dumping their 10-year-old Steven at the Wilmington, Delaware's Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children.
The Dec. 28 Philadelphia Inquirer reported only that Dawn Kelso had "wheeled her son into the Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children around 10:45 a.m. Sunday, then carried in several boxes filled with his possessions, left them in the lobby, and fled." The child was "multiply handicapped."
Dawn Kelso was being held at the Dolores J. Baylor Women's Correctional Institution in New Castle after failing to post $2,300 cash bail. Richard Kelso was being held at the Gander Hill Prison in Wilmington after failing to post $3,000 cash bail, reported the Inquirer.
Soon enough, news reports took on a different flavor. A spokesperson for Greater Philadelphia First , "a civic association of business chief executives from 33 of the region's larger corporations," called the Kelso affair "tragic.
"The only thing I can think of is that it is very difficult to care for a severely disabled child, and be the president and CEO of a major company," said the spokesperson.
Dawn Kelso, 45, had been appointed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge in 1997 to serve on the 20-member Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Planning Council; her term expired a few days after she'd dumped her son at the hospital. Associated Press Writer Michael Rubinkam reported Council chairman Paul O'Hanlon as saying she'd "expressed frustration in dealing with agencies that sent nurses to her home to care for the boy."
The Ridgaway Philips home health agency told Rubinkam that it "provided nursing care for Steven for 10 hours a day." "And the Kelsos hired nurses for an additional eight to 10 hours a day," wrote Rubinkam.
They talked off the record. They recited stories they'd heard.
The Kelsos dumped Steven at the Wilmington hospital every Christmas, they said. This year the hospital had said they didn't have room for him; the Kelsos pulled their stunt and dropped him anyway. Dawn Kelso was rich, said those who knew her as a member of the DD Council. She had little grasp of the problems average disabled people encountered with the system.
Rumor. Innuendo. No one would speak on the record. No one wanted their name associated with what they thought about Dawn Kelso.
"She had piles of services," one source told us. "This was a personal crisis between her and her husband -- not a 'systems' issue.
"Your story should be about the danger of misdirected public debate."