A teenage boy with autism who died after being restrained at a specialty school in Northern California last month has been identified by his family, according to KTLA sister station KTXL in Sacramento.
The family of Max Benson chose to share photographs of the 13-year-old with KTXL to show his sweet demeanor.
"When they were bringing the chaplains from class to class, instead of just letting the chaplains say, 'We’re here for you,' the staff also shared their message — 'Just so you know, we didn’t kill anyone,'" parent Melissa Lasater said.
Benson died on Nov. 28, days after he was hospitalized after losing consciousness while being restrained by a staff member on campus.
A California Department of Education report states the use of restraint was in violation of numerous state laws and not in accordance with Benson’s behavior intervention plan.
Investigators found the "staff's actions were harmful to the health, welfare and safety of an individual with exceptional needs" and that Benson "required intervention strategies that were not used."
Lasater told KTXL she’s appalled at how Guiding Hands School Inc. handled the death of one of their students.
"They held this child down, they had him not breathing," Lasater said. "He went to the hospital and later died. That’s on the school."
Lasater said her 13-year-old son knew Benson but did not know he had passed away until news of his death was made public a week later.
"He immediately started to cry and started to process who’s been missing the last few days, who could it be," Lasater said. "And then his face just dropped and he’s like, 'Mom, mom, it was Max. They killed Max.' And then he was petrified."
Lasater said her son was also restrained at Guiding Hands and often came home with bruises.
"His whole forehead was completely cut from a rug burn," she said.
After Benson died Lasater immediately revoked her permission for the school to use any sort of force against her son. But after thinking further, she decided to pull her son from the school altogether, she said.
"They’re all still there with the same staff, who are trained in the same techniques, who are going to use them the same way," Lasater told KTXL. "They use them as punishment."
Now, Lasater said she’s organizing protests in front of the Department of Education building in Sacramento, calling on the state to shut down the school. The state department has already put Guiding Hand's license on suspension, meaning it can’t take any new students.
"They act like they did a real big thing by stopping new students from coming but that does nothing to protect the vulnerable children that are already there, and that’s unacceptable," Lasater said.
KTXL made repeated attempts Tuesday to get a comment from the school. Their previous spokesperson said he no longer represents Guiding Hands. The school’s front office has yet to respond to requests.
The state Department of Education's full report on Guiding Hands is below: