WILD AT HEART

part 2 of 2
In February 1992 Casey went to live at another Utah-based program, Sorenson's Ranch School in Koosharem. At Sorenson's, Casey lived in a rustic cabin set in a high mountain valley. Like every youth there, he received a horse in order to learn responsibility. It would have been an idyllic place to many troubled youths. But Casey wasn't happy.

"He was not an easy child," recalls ranch owner Burnell Sorenson. "He was one of the harder kids we've ever had here." If Casey couldn't go on a trip or participate in a special event, says Sorenson, he could get violent. "He would sometimes lose it and swing at people," Sorenson says. "Then again, he could be the softest, kindest person in the world."
Staff members sometimes had to wrestle Casey to the ground and restrain him when he became threatening or violent, says Sorenson. One person would grab each arm, and another would grab his legs. A fourth person would talk to Casey and calm him. Employees took great care in performing these takedowns, says Sorenson: "We always worried about him because of his asthma."

Whenever Casey got angry about the rules or frustrated with a Sorenson staffer, he would tell his mother more "stories," says Rose. Once he told her that the school's staff forced him to march backward for hours at a time. And more than once, Casey's tales of mistreatment or deprivation caused her to phone the school with complaints or to race the 600 miles to be by his side. "I interfered so much that Sorenson didn't want to see my face anymore," she admits.

Burnell Sorenson agrees that Rose's repeated intervention was one reason ranch directors decided they could no longer keep Casey. But the decision to cut Casey loose was not an easy one for Sorenson or others at the facility.

"If he'd spent another six months here, I think he could have made exceptional strides," says one staffer who asked that his name not be used. "I feel sad and blame myself for letting him go on when he hadn't finished."
Casey returned home in mid-October 1992, less than a year after he'd left. His next--and final--placement would be in the Cleo Wallace Center.

The private, not-for-profit Cleo Wallace Center was founded in 1943 by its namesake, a Denver speech and language specialist who started by holding classes in her basement for children "with special needs." In 1958 the center moved to its present home, a 33-acre site in Westminster. The campuslike setting, which features mountain vistas and expanses of green lawn, has grown to include two hospital units, a gym, a central dining commons, an administration building, classrooms and housing for the residential patients. There is no barbed wire. "This is not a detention center," says chief operating officer Mike Montgomery.

But the rules are as strict as any jail's. Behavior is closely monitored, and even the slightest transgression can result in punishment--usually isolation of one form or another. "Glaring," using profane language and interfering with staff are only a few of the items on a long list of "aggressive and intimidating behaviors" that can result in punishment.

The staff also frequently "physically manages" patients it deems a danger to themselves or others. One director told detectives after Casey's death that staff members manually restrained patients 430 times between June and December of 1993.

Patients are referred to Cleo Wallace by doctors, social service agencies, schools, hospitals and the courts. On any given day, says Montgomery, the center has 160 youths ages 5 to 21 in treatment, not counting those who receive outpatient counseling. Despite its hefty fees--residential patients pay $240 a day, though social service agencies pay less--Cleo Wallace has become one of the largest such treatment centers in the state.

After Casey came home from Utah, the Colliers agreed to enter him in Cleo Wallace's day-treatment program. He would attend classes there during the day and return home at night and on weekends. This time, says Rose, she was determined not to interfere with the staff.

One morning, not long after his enrollment, Casey refused to go to school. It was a holiday, Mike says, but the center remained open, and Casey resented the idea that he would have to attend class. He grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen and ran out of the house and down the alley.

A notation in Casey's medical history says that Casey threatened his mother with the knife, an accusation Rose vehemently denies. In addition, his medical records from Cleo Wallace indicate that his parents told a staffer they considered the boy dangerous. But Rose insists Casey never threatened her or made her feel afraid. "They're liars," she says. "I never said he was violent."

Nevertheless, Rose did phone police after Casey bolted from the house with the knife. "I didn't want the cops to shoot him because of seeing this big kid with a knife," she says. Rose says that Casey returned home without incident after having lunch with one of her sons, who works nearby.

Rose sent Casey back to Cleo Wallace. This time, however, he would have to live there full-time.

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