A mom channeled her grief into action and made history

ImageSometimes, not too often, I get asked to do something cool. I was recently asked to present an award to Patti Saylor of Frederick, MD for her tireless advocacy on behalf of those with Down Syndrome. Patti’s a nurse and she’s always been an advocate, ever since her son Ethan was born with Down Syndrome 27 years ago. Last year, tragedy took Ethan from this world in a senseless, head-scratching way. The young man died after an altercation with police over a $12 movie ticket. Seems he saw the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” on a Friday night and, after walking out with his aide, wanted to go back in and see it again. The aide went to go get the car, as Patti instructed her to do over the phone, and when she came back, Ethan had walked back into the theater and sat down. Three off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies working as security confronted Ethan, kept the aide away from him, forcibly removed him from the theater, and in the end, Ethan was dead. The Medical Examiner ruled it a homicide, pointing to unexplained damage to Ethan’s trachea. Those deputies were never indicted, and an internal investigation found them not guilty of any wrongdoing. Still, Ethan is no longer here. Patti and her family have fought for a new investigation and for better training for first responders. I’ve done several stories on the Saylor’s fight. This is the speech I wrote to give Patti her award:

“My name is Debra Alfarone and I’m a reporter for WUSA9, the CBS station that covers this area. I’ve been a reporter for 10 years. I’ve covered my fair share of stories. Before I landed here a year ago, I was a reporter in NYC, the number one news market, where I covered a breakneck pace of national and local stories, everything from murders and fires, from the meltdown of Charlie Sheen at the Plaza Hotel to the death of Osama Bin Laden. I came here last year, and heard about a story that  – after covering all that, working in NYC –  just blew my mind. It was the story of a young man whose life was taken away, all because he didn’t have a $12 movie ticket. Up until that point, I didn’t know anyone who had Down Syndrome. I didn’t have a lot of exposure. Then, I met Patti Saylor and her family. Then, I understood. What happened to Ethan Saylor may never be fully understood – it’s hard to comprehend. But, what is crystal clear is what Ethan brought to Patti’s life. Patti hasn’t slowed down, hasn’t stopped, hasn’t hesitated – even in her grief – to find, search, ask for and demand the answers and justice she deserves. Because of her and her family’s efforts, mountains have moved. There’s now the very first statewide commission for the inclusion of those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. That’s never been done before. I am honored to be able to tell Patti’s story, and because of the power of social media, I’ve heard from people around the country who’s lives are touched by and dedicated to those with Down syndrome who are equally touched by Patti’s tireless work, her fortitude and the light she shines. Patti Saylor is proof that we can do anything we set our minds to.”

You can see my speech here

And see Patti’s response here

When you meet someone like that, who channels their grief into action, who inspires others to be better people, who embodies strength, you have to share their story. I hope you’ll share hers. 


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