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Mother Kills Disabled Teenage Daughter Woman Turns Herself In After Smothering 14-Year-Old Who Was Paralyzed From Accidental Shooting

Thu., Feb. 23, 1995

Fourteen-year-old Erin Rockstrom couldn’t speak or walk or hold up her head, but relatives say she made it clear she wanted to die.

Her mother, Deborah Rockstrom, listened.

The 36-year-old Spokane woman was arrested Tuesday night for first-degree murder after telling police she first drugged, then smothered, her daughter to death.

“It was a mercy killing, that’s what it was,” said Della Rockstrom, Erin’s grandmother. “Erin wanted to end it and (Deborah Rockstrom) did it for her. She helped her. I believe that.”

Erin Rockstrom accidentally was shot in the face Sept. 5, 1993, while partying with 10 other teenagers at the home of a friend whose parents were out of town. One boy was playing with a .22-caliber handgun when it went off, police said.

The bullet pierced Rockstrom’s right cheek, traveled through her brain and lodged in her brain stem. Doctors decided against trying to remove it.

The former Glover Middle School student was released from the hospital nearly two months later and had been under her family’s care at their home on West Euclid since.

“It’s been very hard on her parents,” said a Rockstrom relative who asked not to be identified. “Erin used to be a very active, happy, energetic little girl. They hated seeing her the way she was.

“Sometimes the family wished she had just died (from the shooting),” the woman said.

Jeanette Rockstrom, who used to be married to the girl’s uncle, described Deborah Rockstrom as a “great mother. She was totally devoted to her kids,” she said.

The family’s insurance attorney, John Layman, said Erin Rockstrom couldn’t swallow or move. She communicated only with hand signals - one tap for “yes,” two taps for “no.” She couldn’t return hugs.

Her quality of life was lousy, he said. He compared her to a huge baby who has to be taken care of 24 hours a day. Family members shifted her around from chairs to her wheelchair to her bed, spoon-fed her and changed her diapers.

“Her mother was very caring and devoted to taking care of her,” said Layman, president of the Spokane chapter of the Washington State Head Injury Foundation.

Still, the lawyer said he couldn’t believe Deborah Rockstrom would take her daughter’s life.

“I just can’t imagine her mother … It sounds like she was trying to help out Erin, to do something to relieve her pain,” Layman said.

According to police, Deborah Rockstrom showed up at the Spokane County Jail about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and said she’d killed her daughter by giving her medication and then smothering her.

Police went to the family home at W134 Euclid and found her husband, Steve Rockstrom, who had just arrived home. He told police Deborah Rockstrom had taped a note to the front door that read, “Steve, I have helped Erin, so don’t go in the house. I’m going to police to turn myself in.”

Inside, the teenager who once loved to skate and swim was dead.

Steve Rockstrom burned his wife’s note before police arrived, according to reports. He went into the house and found his daughter in her bed.

He told detectives Deborah Rockstrom had talked about “helping Erin die” last Christmas. He urged her to consider the consequences, telling his wife she’d go to jail if she did.

The teen was fed through a tube, could barely move one arm and one leg and got frustrated trying to communicate with visitors, said her grandmother.

“Her head flopped over to one side … I just couldn’t stand to be around her. It made me sick,” said Della Rockstrom, who had visited her granddaughter only once since the girl’s hospital release.

She talked with her son, Steve Rockstrom, the night before the killing and asked how Erin was doing.

“All he said was she wasn’t eating very well and her brain was deteriorating,” she said.

Steve Rockstrom refused to talk about his daughter’s death.

His tearful wife sat in court with her attorney Wednesday while court Commissioner Virginia Rockwood described the crime.

Deborah Rockstrom was released from jail Wedneday night after posting bail of $1,000.

She has worked for the past six years as a care-giver at Lakeland Village, a treatment center for the mentally handicapped.

Her defense attorney, Richard Cease, agreed to arrange mental health counseling for his client within 48 hours of her release. “This is a terrible tragedy involving a child and an entire family of good people,” Cease said.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bonnie Harris Staff writer Staff writer Jeanette White contributed to this report.


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