5-Year-Old Boy in Mesa Murder-Suicide Found With Ligature Around His Neck, Police Say

When medical staff at Banner Health Cardon Children's Medical Center discovered 5-year-old patient Helious Griffith and his mother, Lola “Tami” Griffith, dead in a hospital room this weekend, the little boy had a piece of medical tubing wrapped around his neck, Mesa police now say.

As has been widely reported, hospital staff encountered the bodies at about 2 a.m. Saturday while conducting a routine bed check. 

Police have said Tami, 27, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound but, until today, would not disclose any information about Helious’ death.

Even though the obvious scenario appears to be strangulation, Mesa Police Department Detective Steve Berry cautions against jumping to conclusions concerning the boy's death until a comprehensive report from the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner is complete.

Helious, who was diagnosed with dystonic cerebral palsy at the age 1, had been in the hospital for about a week and had an open case with the Department of Child Safety, police say.

The DCS issued a statement on the case late today that is included below.

The Arizona Republic reports that Tami’s father says his daughter killed Helious and then herself because she was afraid of losing custody — Shannon Griffith adds that “he believes his daughter thought ‘she had no choice’ and could not live without her son.”

Much information about the Griffith’s situation still is unknown, but according to a YouCaring Account Tami set up, she was struggling to pay for her son’s expensive medical care:

“I'm a single mother of a special needs little boy whom will be turning 6 this Christmas eve 2015. My son's name is Helious (like the Greek Sun God Helios) and he has Cerebral Palsy with Dystonia, he has sensitivities to audio, odor, and touch. He also suffers from separation anxiety when I'm out of his line of sight where he cries and can not self calm. He has been traumatized by doctors where now he expresses extreme anxiety and down right terror when he smells rubbing alcohol and/or see someone in scrubs or lab coat,” she writes.

“I'm in need of help since our ONLY vehicle broke down and needs replacing. I normally help my community with food and diapers or whatever I can when they come and ask but this time, I'm afraid, I need the help. But no one here in my community can lend a hand. So I'm reaching out to anybody and everybody hoping to find those few that would love to help.”

Tammy’s father also told the Republic that the family’s medical insurance company recently scaled back how much of Helious’ treatment it would cover, and he suspects that his daughter killed herself and her son “as a last resort.”

Most details about what happened early Saturday morning still are under wraps.

“All I can confirm is that the mom died from gunshot wound . . . and that no one reported hearing a gunshot," Berry of the Mesa PD tells New Times.

He adds that many “in the media world seem to find this unusual, but consider [the situation]:

“They’re in a room behind a closed door with the TV on, the room was not near the nurses’ station, and there were very few other people on that floor or in that wing. And realistically, most people on the floor were probably asleep, [meaning] it’s not out of the question for no one to have heard the shot.”

Though the situation is being investigated as a murder-suicide, no official motive has been declared.

**Update 3:50 pm: Here is the statement the DCS released about the Helious Griffith’s case:

“On November 5th, 2015, a team decision making meeting was held. It included DCS staff, service providers, and the family of Helious (including Lola). Upon conclusion, DCS communicated its intent to file a petition with the court requesting an ‘In-Home Dependency.’

“This would allow Helious to remain with his mother and family, in his home, while the court monitored services and progress. This was to ensure the safety of Helious while affording his mother physical custody and necessary service provision. This was to begin upon Helious' discharge from the hospital. Helious was murdered before that occurred.”

The DCS also provided the following summary of its involvement with the family:

On August 24th, 2011, DCS received a report of child neglect involving Helious. Helious reportedly had an infection, couldn't produce urine, had a high fever, was emaciated, and had a seizure. He was hospitalized. DCS worked with the family and the neglect report was unsubstantiated.

On November 28th, 2011, DCS received another report of child neglect involving Helious. Helious was alleged to be severely malnourished and not gaining weight. Medical professionals said his condition could become life threatening if untreated. Helious and the family received services and the report was unsubstantiated.

On April 22nd, 2012, DCS received a report alleging possible abuse of Helious. Helious was brought into a CVS clinic by his mother, Lola. Lola said Helious had a dislocated shoulder and wanted it, "popped back in." Lola said his shoulder dislocated while he was napping in his crib. Lola was told to take Helious to a hospital but was reluctant. Helious' appearance was described as dirty and small for his age. The report was investigated and unsubstantiated.

On September 28th, 2015, DCS received a neglect report alleging Helious was living in a dirty, bug infested home. There were concerns regarding Helious being fragile and breathing heavily. DCS responded and found the home cluttered but not unsafe. There were roaches seen but Lola said the home was being sprayed to alleviate the problem. DCS did note concerns that Helious was thin and underweight. DCS requested Helious be seen by a pediatrician. Lola took Helious to his scheduled well child visit on October 30th, 2015. The pediatrician had concerns and Helious was taken to Cardon Children's Medical Center where he was admitted.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser