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Autistic Teen Struggled To Get Out Of Blazing Apartment

by Dave Reynolds (subscribe)

ALBANY, OREGON--Christopher DeGroot, the 19-year-old autistic youth locked in his parents' apartment while it burned (see earlier story), apparently tried desperately to get out before he was rescued.

Jeris Chavez, a neighbor who lives in the same apartment complex, told the Corvallis Gazette-Times that she and a cousin were in their back yard on Mother's Day when they saw smoke coming from the DeGroot family's apartment.

Chavez immediately called 9-1-1.

"I told them to get here fast cause I knew there was a kid inside," she told the newspaper Tuesday, adding that she saw the teenager's father leave the apartment about a half hour earlier.

Chavez, who has a 9-year-old grandson with autism, said her cousin could hear 19-year-old Christopher Air DeGroot pounding on the wall from inside the apartment. Neighbors had difficulty getting the door open because Christopher's parents had installed a dead bolt lock that required a key to open it from the inside. The windows had also been locked.

Christopher died in a Portland hospital last Friday from burns he sustained during that fire.

Investigators determined that the fire had been set with some sort of paper in the living room.

Prosecutor Michael Wynhausen said Monday that the time from when Nicolaas and Agnes DeGroot left to the time the fire started indicated that they started the blaze and then "sealed" Christopher inside alone.

Both parents face one count of first-degree arson. Each also faces a charge of first-degree manslaughter -- upgraded Monday from second-degree. They are now being held in Linn County jail on $500,000 security each.

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Manslaughter?? Manslaughter???

I'm no lawyer, but when you lock your kid inside an apartment, set fire to it and leave...isn't that cut and dry first degree murder?

The Parents should be charged with first degree murder. They are heartless.

I just dont understand how can it just be manslauder?That poor boy was locked in there no way out i cant imagine what was going thru his mind.How could they be so crule as to leave a defenseless boy to suffer such a death.They need to be hung for what they did.I am a mother of 5 autistic children i would never harm them they are my life and i love them so much i cry for this boy every night thinking i wish i could have been there to try to help get him out i would have given my own life for him.How can they live with their selfs?

Manslaughter? WTF?

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