It was a “Sunday like any other Sunday,” Kym Karath said, before local kids terrorized her special needs son and his caretaker while the two were on a walk in Malibu West.
It was a warm Sunday afternoon, March 12, when Karath’s son, Eric, and his caretaker set out on one of their regular walks around the neighborhood where Kym and Eric have lived for the past decade. Not long into their routine, though, Eric’s caretaker felt a rock come fly toward her and land on the ground near her foot, Karath said. Then, another one, closer to Eric.
“What she had told me happened was that they were in the usual neighborhood walking, when something went flying by her and landed at her foot — close to her foot — and she looked, not knowing what it was, and then another — and it was a rock, a big rock, and then another rock came by her… Actually, I think the next rock almost hit Eric in the head, and then she threw herself around Eric and another rock came and hit her a little on her foot — hit her leg — and she started screaming,” Karath described to The Malibu Times a couple weeks after the alleged incident occurred. She declined to give the name of her son’s caretaker, except to say she was employed through the Aurelia Foundation, which was founded by Karath to help parents of special needs children aged 22 and older. Karath, an actress and writer famous for her role of Gretl in the original “The Sound of Music,” began the nonprofit about four years ago.
The identity of the kids the caretaker saw throwing the rocks — described as a group of about five boys ages 12-13 — is still under investigation, according to officials at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. What is clear is that the incident is being treated as a hate crime — according to Detective J.T. Manwell from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, “Because of what they allegedly said to the caretaker.”
Karath said what the group shouted were threats against the two: One because he is disabled, and the other because she is Latina.
“They said, something around the lines of, ‘We want to kill you, you Mexican,’ and…” Karath paused while recounting the story, “the actual words were, ‘And your f-ing r-tard.’”
Eric, Karath explained, suffered a stroke when he was a few weeks old that damaged his ability to communicate, his decision making and judgment and left him “fragile” with a high degree of anxiety. At the age of 25, he does not speak and depends on family and caretakers. “He needs help with everything,” Karath said. “He’s really dependent on the goodness of the people around him.”
Karath said aside from one rock striking the caregiver’s leg, the two made it back physically unharmed, but “shattered and shaking.”
“They went for their usual walk around the neighborhood and they came back in a state of absolute panic, fear, hysteria,” she described. “I will never forget what they looked like when they walked in the door.”
Manwell said details about the suspects and investigation were being kept confidential because those involved in the alleged attack are minors; however, he did describe the possible penalties the boys could face if they are eventually found guilty of participating in the hate crime attack.
“Repercussions in something like this could be anything from home on probation to certain diversion programs to actual time in juvenile hall,” Manwell said.
He said the case has gotten “dicey,” due to some misidentifications, but that it was an active and ongoing investigation.
Karath said she hoped the boys receive education — from their parents as well as from society — to ensure no one else goes through what Eric and his caretaker experienced.
“We can’t raise kids to be predators. We can’t raise kids to be cruel. We can’t raise kids to be aggressive,” Karath said. “And, I mean, aggression to the most helpless members of society is — it’s inhumane. Aggression on any level is unacceptable, but to an utterly helpless victim? The elderly? The handicapped? And we certainly can’t raise kids to be racist.”
She added what she would say to the group if she had the chance.
“At what point did they look at my son and think that he was less of a human being than any of them? Or at the caregiver? At what point does the natural empathy, which I do feel there is — human to human — does it break down completely? I, frankly, would show them a picture of themselves as a baby and a picture of Eric as a baby and say, ‘What do you think the difference is?’” Karath said. “The difference is, they didn’t have a stroke when they were three weeks old. That’s the difference. That’s why they can talk and he can’t. Do they think they’re superior? Do they realize that this is how life works? Then they can look at a picture of a Hispanic child and a picture of themselves and say, ‘What do you think the difference is here? Did you choose the color of your skin?’”
Karath said it was about a week later that she and Eric — together with her ex-husband, Eric’s father; her husband; and her husband’s son, who also has special needs — were able to resume walking around the neighborhood, but that it has taken longer to shake off the sting of that afternoon.
When asked if the incident has affected her feelings about “coming home” to Malibu West, she said: “It’s unnerved me. There’s no doubt. And depressed me. And believe me, I would like to say that it didn’t, but it did. I do; I feel different. I’m trying to overcome those feelings, but it’s… It’s a struggle.”