Yet another set of disappearances from an institution

choolEarlier on this blog I wrote about three teenage boys who all disappeared (years apart) from the same treatment facility for troubled youths and were never found. Well, I have just discovered another set of disappearances from another institution, in this case a state-operated institution for retarded people.

Seventeen-year-old Steven Eugene Anderson and twelve-year-old David Williams disappeared together from the New Lisbon State School for Retarded Males in 1975 and were never found. Steven was moderately retarded (from his picture he looks like he might have Downs Syndrome). I don’t have any info on David’s mental condition, but I know he takes medication, and I listed him as mentally disabled since he did, after all, live at the school.

I just found the NamUs profile of 46-year-old Kenneth Arthur Schweighart, who disappeared from New Lisbon State School in 1982. From what little information is available, the circumstances look about the same: walked off campus and vanished without a trace, no evidence to speak of.

I think this is rather odd, to say the least.

The New Lisbon State School is now called the New Lisbon Developmental Center. According to the New Jersey Department of Human Services, it houses over 400 people. It’s coed now and only serves those 18 and up. I wish I could find info as to what the place was like in the seventies and eighties.

I wonder if anyone has looked really hard at the school and its employees? Were there any more links between the 1975 disappearances and the 1982 one, besides the location? I can see one retarded guy wandering off. But three? Were Steven and David supervised? It seems to me that a seventeen-year-old and a twelve-year-old with mental disabilities should not be able to just leave campus without someone with them. I would love to know more about these cases but I can’t find much. As ever.

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52 thoughts on “Yet another set of disappearances from an institution

  1. forthelost December 8, 2009 / 10:51 pm

    I’d be very surprised if Steven had Down’s – he’s missing a lot of the facial features.

  2. Christine December 9, 2009 / 2:18 am

    I too find this case of the 2 missing boys to be strange. It’s says they were last seen walking on a highway near the school. Why would they be walking alone on a highway and why is there not more information on this?

  3. donna December 9, 2009 / 2:19 am

    My Grandson is Down Syndrome, Steven doesn’t srile me as Down Syndrome-Eyes set wide apart and slanted. I’m not a Doctor, but…. And I have the same question, what were these Boys doing unsupervised? Just as curious is the other individual who is missing. Check out whitehouseboys.com.

  4. donde December 9, 2009 / 3:41 am

    Are you supposed to say “retarded people” these days?

    • Meaghan December 9, 2009 / 12:36 pm

      They like to say things like “mentally handicapped” and “developmentally disabled,” but those terms can mean a lot of things. Retarded is specific.

    • danielle December 9, 2009 / 3:24 pm

      lots of terms for the same meaning. I am a special education teacher and our teaching certificate is “Mentally Retarded”.
      I worked in Georgia for years and the school districts had terms like: Exceptional Education or Intellectually Disabled
      I now live and work in California where they use terms
      “Special Day Class” Moderately/Severly Handicapped

      Retarded should not be a negative term and I wish it wasn’t b/c the students are the best students in school. They don’t drink, smoke, leave campus, cuss out the teacher, do drugs, or anything. They are the most loveable and trusting people on earth

    • forthelost December 9, 2009 / 4:36 pm

      Pretty much standard is either “mentally retarded” or “developmentally disabled.” In the UK the term is “learning disabled.”

  5. SGY December 9, 2009 / 6:29 am

    I have family members with developmental disabilities and have worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for several years as a coordinator. Developmental disabilities is the current PC term :). Most ARC agencies have changed the meaning of the acronym of “Association of Retarded Citizens” to stand for something moe empowering. (All ARC agencies are essentially seperate and have differing philosphies and operation).
    In the 1970’s, laws concerning these citizens were nearly non-existent and care was abusive, neglectful, and all aound appalling. Anyone who wants to read up on this subject simply needs to google “Willowbrook State School”.

    “The measure of a country’s greatness should be based on how well it cares for its most vulnerable populations”

    ~ Mahatma Gandhi

    • SGY December 9, 2009 / 6:32 am

      Sorry. My “R” key is sticky.

    • danielle December 9, 2009 / 3:29 pm

      In the 70’s a term “educable”, trainable, etc.. were used. I love that there are more support groups and acceptance. I take my students in the public to teach “community skills”-ordering food, paying for items, selecting items, standing in line and waiting our turn…
      Most citizens treat us kindly. The people that laugh or stare have the problem, not my students. One student, Ian, will say, “how are you?” to the person staring. But not mean it in a mean or sarcastic way.
      Good will and many grocery store employ the older students as baggers or something “simple” so there has been improvement since the 70’s for sure

  6. AEG December 9, 2009 / 12:10 pm

    To kind of repeat SGY, neglect and abuse of the developmentally disabled was common. It still exists today, but it’s much easier to report it and get a response.

    That said, there are fine institutions for the developmentally disabled where someone will get out despite the best measures. I don’t know enough of the circumstances at said institutions to make a call either way, but both scenarios are possible.

    • Meaghan December 11, 2009 / 8:32 am

      I did find and read a 2003 report where they did an inspection of the New Lisbon Developmental Center and it said they had some problems there (mainly with residents assaulting each other and some insensitive/abusive staff) but NLDC was trying to improve their system for reporting/investigating abuses, and the inspectors thought most of the staff were genuinely caring, dedicated people.

      • Campbell July 14, 2012 / 4:21 pm

        Meaghan- this is the case I am researching in connection with two other crimes that occurred in the general area. New Lisbon is very isolated and in the 70’s it was really, really off the beaten path- NJ built almost all of its institutions in very rural areas.(Prisons,Psych Hosp’s and Developemental Centers)
        Do you have anything else on this case? My view is the three young men did not just wonder into the woods- something happened to them. In that era there were a lot of really bad guys in the area of the South Jersey Shore and they operated- like elsewhere in the country-pretty much at will.

  7. danielle December 9, 2009 / 3:31 pm

    There is probably a cover up. No one would let kids walk along a highway with out proper supervision. A terrible cover up. I am sad this happened b/c the missing people “didn’t know any better”

  8. jamie December 9, 2009 / 9:44 pm

    I agree with Danielle, COVER UP! I wonder why the family members havent asked for law enforcement to recheck the grounds and septic systems…Maybe draine the systems and use sonar to see if the grounds have any images under them.I would be banging down those doors if that was my family.

    • Meaghan December 9, 2009 / 9:45 pm

      If they were living in a state institution, there’s a chance that perhaps they didn’t have a family.

  9. Kelly B December 10, 2009 / 7:35 pm

    I have been a silent observer to this site for about a year now. I will most likely never post again. I just wanted to say how I love the fact that people are actually talking about one of our most vulnerable populations. Thank you Danielle, SGY and AEG. I am the very proud mother of a son with Down Syndrome and am so thankful I live in this day and age.

  10. danielle December 11, 2009 / 3:23 pm

    Kelly B.: Welcome…..glad you are here! Post anytime, but thanks for the acknowledgement!

  11. SGY December 11, 2009 / 5:45 pm

    Thank you, Kelly B!!! I absolutely adore all of the participants I work with. I learn life lessons everyday, and certainly never get bored!!
    I don’t like the term “retarded”. I seldom find it used anymore except for insurance/medicaid purposes. I see “Pervasive Developmental Disorder” is used more often. It is also important to keep in mind “retarded” is not the same as stupid. I remember my cousin coming home from school sobbing because kids screamed “retard” at her. I try to never use that term.
    I have had clients that were abandoned at birth, and then adopted out or put in residential homes. They didn’t have birth certificates, social security #s, etc. De-instituionalization (is that a word?) wasn’t methodical. People were simply released.
    I implore anyone to look up the Willowbrook State School, and the laws concerning these disabled citizens in their state. These conditions existed only decades ago. Isn’t that frightening and disgusting? I am saddened, but not surprised, at the number of people with developmental disabilties who have gone missing prior to recent years.

  12. AEG December 12, 2009 / 11:04 am

    Kelly B, you’re welcome and thank you. Your insight is just as helpful to me. My experience actually comes from being on both sides of the fence. Long story short, I was misdiagnosed as “mentally retarded” (I also don’t like that term, but that’s how they diagnosed me) and faced mild abuse during the 80’s (by “mild” I mean taken to a dark room, cornered and yelled at until I cried, and kept in time out for inappropriate periods of time – all on separate occasions). Later I have worked as a teacher’s aide for those with learning and developmental disabilities, keeping my experiences in mind. Those teachers, when I left, told me I help them more than they would ever know.

    It does sadden me that some of the conditions are still found in these institutions. I’m also happy they have improved, some of the changes occurring drastically since I left. I just wish the social views of those with developmental disabilities would change with them.

  13. Christine December 15, 2009 / 2:17 am

    Here is a new article about that school:

    Death in Burlington County facility for people with disabilities is second ‘unexpected’ in two months
    By Trish G. Graber
    December 14, 2009, 7:36PM

    A male resident at a Burlington County state facility for people with developmental disabilities died Friday, the second “unexpected” resident death there in two months.

    Pam Ronan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, said the man, who was in his mid-50s, was found unresponsive early Friday at the New Lisbon Developmental Center.

    “He was helped out of bed in the morning, dressed and helped into a chair in the lounge. When staff came to take him to breakfast, he was unresponsive to the staff and 911 was immediately called,” Ronan said.

    The man was transported to Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly Township and died six hours later, according to state officials.

    The cause of death has not been released, and officials would not disclose the man’s disability.

    An investigation into the “unexpected” death is under way, Ronan said. To date, no employee disciplinary action has been taken and the state is awaiting results of an autopsy.

    The man had been in state developmental centers since 1965. He lived at New Lisbon, a facility with 417 residents, since the 1980s, Ronan said.

    New Lisbon Developmental Center is one of seven state-run facilities serving people with developmental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and autism.

    Ten people have died there this year. On Oct. 12, a man living at the center died after choking on a sandwich. An unidentified employee was placed on leave without pay pending a Department of Human Services hearing scheduled for January. Ronan said it was the only case this year resulting in follow-up disciplinary action.

    The Burlington County center has had a history of problems. In 2002, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found residents had been deprived of adequate medical and psychological care and were left unprotected from abuse.

    The Department of Justice opened its own investigation that year. In 2004, the state agreed to four years of independent monitoring of practices at the New Lisbon center. That monitorship, which was extended one year, ended in August.

  14. JAN KERRY December 16, 2009 / 11:34 pm

    There are many problems that contribute to the deaths at New Lisbon Developmental Center. One is that they co-mingle the mentaly ill with the developmentaly disabled. Often the mentaly ill have violent behaviors.
    The location is isolated and miles of state forest surround the area. The patients have rights and have to be permitted the least restictive life style as possible. So if some one wonders off into the state forest and gets lost…….sometimes they are never found. Another problem is that this population is very hard to supervise at all times. Staff are assigned 6-8 people in a group that they have to watch at all times, sometimes it’s just impossible to do. They waste so much $ by paying all the “profesionals” that do not contribute to supervising the patients. There is a great lack of accountability and they hang the direct care out to take the fall when something happens. The profesionals are all locked in thier office and are safe from having to be accountable for the direct care of anyone. I say get rid of all the desks/offices and get all those profesionals out to work and support the care and the safety of these people.
    Or shut the place down!

  15. Christine December 20, 2009 / 2:53 am

    Well said Jan….. very bad situation.

  16. Michael December 26, 2009 / 5:32 am

    Ive visited the New Lisbon facility in the past and I do not believe that the students were murdered or mistreated, so the probability of a cover up in my opinion is slim. The center is near a high way and it is easy to get lost in the surrounding woods or hitchhike away. New Jersey is a densely populated state that abounds with child molesters and other unstable people, so the chance they met with foul play is quite high. I am not sure what the weather was like when they escaped, and they could have also died of exposure. I would need to check the time of year the three residents disappeared. They may have also been spirited away by someone they knew to start a new life somewhere as well.

    • Meaghan December 26, 2009 / 7:30 am

      Steven and David disappeared in April, and Kenneth in March.

  17. Mike February 24, 2010 / 10:23 pm

    I can’t believe this story, its horrifying! I am also horrified that some of you people read the story of these missing people and leave comments about whether one looked like he had down syndrome, or that retarted is a politically incorrect term. Who cares about that, this case is about missing people THREE of them from the same school. Does that not seem to be the most important issue! I believe that a new full blown investigation into these cases with some new detectives on the case should be happening.

    • Meaghan February 24, 2010 / 10:33 pm

      I don’t think anyone — certainly not me — believes these three people are not fully human or shouldn’t be looked for because they’re retarded. But their conditions probably played some role in their disappearances, so of course we would want to discuss them.

  18. Rabbit September 6, 2010 / 4:05 pm

    NLDC is basically a state-wide joke.

    They hire pretty much everyone who applies, don’t drug test them, and pay them about 10 dollars an hour to supervise 8 to 10 individuals who are not only developmentally disabled but a frequently mentally ill as well.
    Client disappearances and injuries are treated on a “CYA” (cover your ass) basis. If nobody saw it happen and there aren’t any visible injuries, then it didn’t happen and don’t bother to take the 20 minutes to fill out the paperwork.
    The rule of thumb is “Do not, under ANY circumstances, snitch out your co-workers”. No matter what you may have seen them do.
    The college-educated staff (social workers, etc) spend little if any time with the clients. The bulk of the work and client interaction falls on the direct care staff who are only being paid (as I said) about 10 bucks an hour. People don’t apply here to help the disabled. They apply for kick-ass state benefits.
    And if you do get caught doing something wrong? You spend a few days literally sitting on a bench for your entire shift outside the administrative area. Eventually you are returned to your duties.
    This place will probably never be closed. What do you do with several hundred individuals who cannot be placed in the community due to behavioral and criminal issues? You leave them at NLDC and hope for the best.
    NLDC makes “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” look like the Ritz-Carlton.

    • Kathy McDermott October 14, 2011 / 7:58 am

      Sounds like you work or worked there. There is a lawsuit pendind and perhaps you could help. Contact me if you’re interested. Thanks.

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  20. Cambell March 8, 2012 / 2:00 pm

    It seems that the original thought expressed in this thread dealt with three young men who lived at the New Lisbon Developemental Center that disappeared- two together and one later. I can tell you that in the 1970′ and 80′, this facility was extremely remote by NJ standards- located deep in the Pine Barrens.. Over the years there have been a number of unusual incidents that took place here -among them was the case of a resident going missing on a very hot day- found dead in the back of a Human Services police car. At one point the United States Justice Dept had a full fledged investigation going and the facility was under a type of monitering or oversight. Today there is a locked building for Developementaly disabled who have commited sexual offenses or men that cannot control their sexual urges.

    It is true that one of the problems in all of NJ’s dev. centers is that mentally ill and criminally iinvolved end up inappropriately placed here in DC’S

    I would like to know more about the three men that were never seen again. How extensive were the searches- if at all? Criminal investigations? Did they just wander into the woods never to be seen again and died out there? Also – it was a different era back then- a lot of predators operating nearly with impunity, Over the last 20- 25 years there were a lot of extremely active serial murderers and rapists that have been identified and incarcerated and just a handful can be responsible for many , many vey serious crimes. However, I know of know such offender in NJ that would have preyed upon this population. If foul play wwas involved it would more than likely be somewone local which leads to the possibility that these guys were lured away from the facility by someone they may have known.

    New Lisbon- even today, is not the type of place you stumble upon- you have to know it is there and you have to be looking for it. Or it could be an employee- it would not be the first time. In any event I would like to no more about what people know or theorize. Thank You

  21. Anna jacks September 18, 2012 / 10:23 pm

    Ive had my brother at new lisbon developmental center sents 1968. It is a wonderful place for him, he us very happy there. I dont know why people are spreading these storys. No other place I tryed for my brother worked. I tryed group homes and other school like settings, he was thrown out off all off them because off his behaviors. One group home called the police on him! Im sick off people saying these mistruths.

    • Meaghan September 19, 2012 / 5:51 am

      Not sure where the mistruths are — it’s true that three men have disappeared from that place without a trace.

  22. Anna jave September 19, 2012 / 1:08 pm

    I just wish people wouldnt make statments and guess about things they just have read about, about people that they have never met and places they have never been. I vist my brother often and come unexpectedly. Ive never seen any thing that I veiwed as inappropriate. There is a staff member that has taken my brother home for thanksgiving because I was ill and unable to take him home with me that year. All I have to say is dont write about a place u dont know about. Thank you.

    • Meaghan September 19, 2012 / 1:36 pm

      I’m glad your brother is well-cared for and happy at the NLDC, and that he has a sister who cares about him and looks out for him. He’s lucky. But many of the commenters here are talking in general terms and not specifically about the NLDC, and others have had personal experience with the NLDC. Just because your brother had/has a good experience doesn’t make these commenters’ stories lies or mean their observations and opinions are invalid. If everybody refused to speak/write about places they’ve never been to and people they’ve never met, nobody would have very much to say.

      • Cambell West September 19, 2012 / 2:19 pm

        I have a brother at Woodbine DC-and I have been to New Lisbon DC many times over the years. I believe the staff does as good job as possible and there are a lot of good people working there. However, there is no doubt the NLDC has been the site of many unusual occurences . Most recently, in the sweltering summer heat a resident went missing and was found many hours later dead in an unlocked Human Serices police car. The three young men that disappeared from the facility, in my view did not just walk away and got lost somewhere in th Pine Barrens. Somebody, on both occassions probably picked them up and removed them from the are and did them harm. Most disturbingly, I believe that these disappearances never got the attention they deserved nor the resources allocated to properly investigate what happened to them. I only wonder how the response would have differed if they were”normal” and not residents of a developemental center but disappeared from a suburban neighborhood.

      • Meaghan September 19, 2012 / 2:56 pm

        Actually, if they’d been “normal” then whatever effort the cops made to find them (and I know very little about these cases) would have been reduced still further. The police don’t look very hard for missing teen boys or grown men. They just figure they left on their own and will come back on their own. And with such cases the police are usually right, except when they’re not.

  23. Anna jave September 19, 2012 / 10:23 pm

    I happen to know that all the indiviuals at NLDC have diffrent what they call “supervision levels” some have to be checked every fifteen minutes, some are only checked twice a shift at the beging and end of the shift. It is a law that the mentally disabled have to be in least restrictive environment as possable. I know this because they were going to try to change my brothers supervison level. So if this indivual that was only found in the police car only had to be checked twice a shift then it wasnt NLDC fault.

    • Anna jave September 19, 2012 / 10:32 pm

      Again like I showed you the the exsample of the supervison levels. You dont understand what your judging. There are state laws in place that nldc and other places must follow. maybe those boys how disappeared werent by law supposed to be followed by staff. unfortunately I have had to learn alot about the laws set in place for the mentally disabled.

      • Meaghan September 19, 2012 / 10:52 pm

        I expect the laws have changed in the thirty years since these men disappeared.

        I’m not saying they met with foul play or that the institution is responsible — I’m just a bit freaked by the fact that it was three of them from one place. I have other people on my website that have disappeared from similar institutions, but never a case where multiple people vanished from the same place at different times. The only situation I have on my site that’s similar is an alternative boarding school for troubled kids that three students disappeared from, separately, and were never found.

    • Meaghan September 19, 2012 / 11:04 pm

      No matter which way you put it, these vulnerable men/boys vanished on the NLDC’S watch. Whether these men ran away, wandered away, got into an accident, or whatever, the NLDC was supposed to keep an eye on them and failed in their duty here — twice. At least part of the blame has to lie at the institution’s door. It’s like if you aren’t watching your little kid and he runs out in the street and gets hit by a car, the accident happened because you weren’t supervising him well enough and you need to change that.

      • Anna jave September 20, 2012 / 6:04 pm

        Your not even listening are you? And I take offense to you regarding people with mental disabilitys a children. They are adults and as such shouldnt be locked in there building. the more I heard from u more I see you are not for people with disabilitys, you just like talking about them and passing judgement. What are you doing for the mentally disabled by starting this blog????

  24. Anna jave September 20, 2012 / 6:10 pm

    Do you even know anyone with developmental disabilities? Im going to blog with you any more (because your a as my granddaughter say) your a “posser “

    • Meaghan September 21, 2012 / 7:15 am

      I know several people with developmental disabilities — including the child of a very good friend of mine, who suffers from several disabilities. In fact, I am developmentally disabled myself — I’m on the autism spectrum (my psychiatrist officially calls it “Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified”) and it causes a lot of problems for me. I’ve also got severe depression on top of that.

      I’m not saying people with mental disabilities are less than human, or that they are children, but people with the kind of conditions these three men had need to be supervised, and that apparently didn’t happen. You can supervise them without keeping them locked up all the time.

      If you look at the rest of the blog, you can see it’s not about mentally disabled people; it’s about people who are missing.

  25. Anna jave September 21, 2012 / 8:00 pm

    Ok so you say that you have a disablity like the clients at nldc. You said that these people that disappeared sould have been watched by the staff at all times. Do you have some one watching you all the time???? Is it some one else’s if you run or wonder away from your home?

    • Anna jave September 21, 2012 / 8:05 pm

      And I have only read this blog because this is what interested me. What I have read on this blog is one sided and doesnt have any journalistic integrity.

      • Anna jave September 21, 2012 / 8:10 pm

        As far as you saying these people need suspervison. What do you base that on??? Is it just your opinion? Are you a mental health perfessional???

      • Campbell September 21, 2012 / 8:33 pm

        Ladies – You are in an absurd pissing match that is far afield of the story about 3 DD guys that disappeared.

      • Meaghan September 22, 2012 / 4:52 am

        I said I had a developmental disability — not that it was like the NLDC people. There are times when I HAVE needed someone to keep an eye on me. My friend’s child was not, so far as I know, mentally retarded, but she had other developmental problems and did need close supervision. She could not be left at home alone and so on even after she became an adult, and her mom had to install alarms on the kitchen cupboards and fridge to stop her sneaking food. She lives in a group home now.

        Are you honestly suggesting that people with mental retardation, who live in an institution, should not be closely supervised? Steven Anderson’s medical information specifically says he isn’t capable of taking care of himself. I don’t need to be a psychiatrist to look up information about mental retardation and read about the kind of supports they need to have. Health professionals say they need supervision, and I’ve got no reason to doubt that.

  26. Anna jave September 22, 2012 / 9:44 pm

    I can tell you that ten years ago in new jersey they passed a bill saying any indiviual with a developmental disability must be placed in the lest restrictive living

  27. Anna jave September 22, 2012 / 9:57 pm

    I can tell you that new lisbon staff must watch them much more the staff at group homes and supervised apartments have to. I can also tell you that they have had letters sents to me from group homes in the area. They have been trying to get me to send my brothers to one. I know my brothers needs more watching then a group home can pervade. I have looked in to group homes in the past they will called the police on there clients! So if group homes are no good, instatutions are no good ( or so you say)and if they cant lives at home then,were do you think they sould be sent? Every one likes to complain no one likes to talk about thw solution

    • Meaghan September 23, 2012 / 5:02 am

      I don’t think group homes or institutions are no good. When did I say that? On the contrary, my friend’s daughter is doing very well in hers. She is able to be around people her own age, and able to do activities and stuff that she could not do at her mom’s house. She might even be able to get a job, something she never could have done while living with her mom.

      I actually stayed in a group home myself once, briefly — they used it as a rest home for me, a “least restricted setting” stress-free environment where I could decompress. It was either that or go to the hospital.

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