Children with special needs require varying levels of care, both at home and at school. Milissa Davis can certainly attest to that, as her son Camden is severely autistic. However, after seeing a dramatic change in his behavior, she planted a recording device in his backpack, hoping to discover the cause. The resulting audio led to the dismissal of two people at his school.
Camden was a student at The Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy in Louisiana. It’s a school that specializes in teaching children with special needs. The facility welcomes those who have conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, Down syndrome, ADHD and autism. However, Davis started to notice that something was wrong in March 2018.
Camden’s behavior at home was changing, as the 12-year-old started to act aggressively towards his parents. Furthermore, he was also wetting the bed and displaying signs of anxiety. However, due to his autism he couldn’t explain what the problem was. Concerned, Davis decided to approach the school, hoping to find some much-needed answers.
However, the Baton Rouge native was left frustrated as her words were seemingly ignored by the school’s principal Linda Stone. “[Milissa] already had issues,” Davis’ attorney Charlotte McGehee told ABC affiliate WBRZ in April 2018. “‘I would like to address where my son is seated, that my son has had a behavior change.’ None of those issues were addressed.”
Undeterred by that particular setback, Davis then hatched an unorthodox plan to get the answers she so desperately wanted. Unbeknown to Camden, she put a recording device inside his school backpack, hoping to pick up on anything that indicated what the issue was.
Soon after that, Davis recovered the audio of the recording, listening intently to her son’s activity at the school. However, despite her obvious concerns, not even she could’ve predicted what followed, as the Baton Rouge native heard some truly distressing comments directed towards Camden by two teachers.
The first part of the audio picked up one of the teachers telling Camden, “You’re just writing the word. What is hard about it?” When the 12-year-old responded with a mumble, the teacher seemingly mocked him by imitating his voice, before asking, “Do you understand that?”
The second part of the audio then picked up the other teacher, who asked the youngster, “Camden, why don’t you have anything written down? That’s why you can’t sit with everyone. Tell your momma that.” The mean-spirited comments then took a vicious turn in the final piece of audio, as one of the teachers cracked a joke at Camden’s expense.
“Let’s see what they do with [Camden] in f***ing public school,” the teacher said. “He was going to go to Live Oak Middle. Uh ah, he wouldn’t make it for a minute.” Unsurprisingly, Davis was horrified by what she heard, immediately posting the recordings on social media.
Before long though, Davis and Camden’s story had gone viral thanks to WBRZ’s Investigative Unit, after they found her social media post. “I just wanted to cry, scream and do everything I could because it was so bad,” the Baton Rouge native told WBRZ in April 2018. “To think that I had sent my son there every day, and what had happened before, that I didn’t know about.”
Desperate to take action, Davis hired lawyer Charlotte McGehee to represent her, with the latter setting her sights on the Department of Education. “One of the worst possible things you can do is take advantage of the infirm, or a disadvantaged child,” the attorney told WBRZ. “They need the extra protection, and [Camden] didn’t get it.”
McGehee then spoke of her own reaction to the audio, noting her shock and disbelief. “When I heard the treatment of this child through the recording his mother made, I was horrified,” she added. Meanwhile, as the anger continued to grow across America after WBRZ’s investigation, Hope Academy made a swift response.
Principal Stone released a lengthy statement on the matter, recounting the incident before speaking of their attempts to contact Davis in the aftermath. “The parent never brought the recording to the attention of Hope Academy before posting it to social media,” it read. “The parent has also refused to meet with Hope Academy to discuss the actions we have taken to address the issue.”
Indeed, the two teachers in question were fired by the school soon after the audio emerged on social media. Despite their departure, though, Hope Academy’s reputation remained in a perilous place. Stone reiterated that the pair’s actions didn’t reflect her school in any way.
“Over these many years, Hope Academy has built a strong reputation for competently serving the educational needs of the special needs community,” Stone’s statement continued. “These recordings are not an indication of who we are. We ask that the community not let the actions of two persons reflect on the reputation of and the mission of our school – a mission we have tried so hard to build.”
Despite the principal’s offers to meet with Camden’s family, Davis sent out a warning to other parents. “If they’re special needs, look at the situation as to why your child is acting that way, because no child deserves to go through what my child did,” she told WBRZ.
Alarmed by the growing negative perception of Hope Academy, Stone insisted that her school was making significant changes. The principal revealed that there would be an open forum meeting for parents to attend and training for staff.
As for Camden, he no longer attends Hope Academy, with his mother transferring him to another school. But while Davis believes that her son is doing much better, she noted a lasting effect from the abuse. She even suggested that it might take some time yet before he fully recovered.
Despite everything that happened, though, Davis relayed her appreciation to all those who supported her family during that period. “Thank you Baton Rouge for everything you did,” she told WBRZ. “People see these children need to be protected, and I was protecting my child because I knew things were going wrong.”
Children with special needs require varying levels of care, both at home and at school. That care was sorely lacking for Camden Davis, though, when he was verbally abused by two teachers at The Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy. Both he and his mother are still feeling the effects of it, despite gaining the support of a mortified nation.
Meanwhile, Christine Guerra-Candelaria from Albuquerque, New Mexico, also knows what it’s like to look after a disabled child. Her son, Matthew, has severe physical disabilities, and as he has gotten older, lifting him in and out of his wheelchair has naturally become a struggle. However, one day as she was putting her son in the back of her car, she had no idea that someone was watching her. And the onlooker knew instantly that he had to do something.
All this American woman did was put her son in the car, just as she did every day – but someone in the local community saw what she was doing and decided to act. What’s more, it wasn’t long before she got the surprise of her life.
With Guerra-Candelaria being a single mom, things haven’t always been easy, but for years she had to deal with something particularly challenging – in both a mental and a physical sense.
Guerra-Candelaria has a disabled son named Matthew whom she loves very much. Now in the past, Matthew’s severe disabilities meant that he relied heavily on his mom, as well as his wheelchair, to get around. Caring for Matthew had proven itself to be a pretty tough job for his mom over the years.
Furthermore, Guerra-Candelaria struggled even more as Matthew grew older and thus heavier. In order to take him anywhere, therefore, his mom would have to park the wheelchair next to the car. She’d then grit her teeth as she lifted her son out of the chair and into the vehicle.
“My biggest challenge is taking him from his wheelchair or stroller, lifting him up and putting him in the vehicle in his special car seat,” Guerra-Candelaria told local news channel KOAT in September 2017. And it was only getting more difficult.
By that point Guerra-Candelaria’s son was almost 14, and she was finding it more and more physically demanding to lift him up. Matthew was around the 70-pound mark, which proved to be somewhat heavy for his mom. That said, she still just about managed to achieve the routine feat of strength.
And although it wasn’t easy, the single mom carried on with her day-to-day duties without receiving much help from anyone else. However, one day all that changed. It turned out that someone in the community had noticed Guerra-Candelaria struggling to lift her son.
That someone was a local man named Stephen Paternoster, who runs an Italian restaurant called Scalo in the Nob Hill area of Albuquerque. And Paternoster was so struck when he witnessed Guerra-Candelaria’s daily struggle that he decided to do something to help her.
As suggested, it was watching the single mom heave her teenage son into the back of her car that concerned the restaurant owner most. He therefore felt compelled to do something to make that particular aspect of their lives a little less difficult; and what he did next was truly heartwarming.
Paternoster could have given Guerra-Candelaria and her son free meals at his restaurant, or perhaps a cash donation, but he didn’t. He had a better idea: he bought them something practical instead; and it was sure to make life significantly easier for the single mom.
The restaurant owner forked out on a van and gave it to Guerra-Candelaria. It wasn’t just any van, either. It was a specially modified vehicle with a mechanical platform capable of raising Matthew in and out with ease – so that his mom wouldn’t have to do it by herself anymore.
Needless to say, Guerra-Candelaria was delighted with the unexpected gift from the good Samaritan. The modified van was sure to make leaving the house with Matthew a whole lot less strenuous for his mom. And Paternoster, for his part, was very pleased to be the one who’d made the donation.
When the KOAT TV crew interviewed the restaurant owner about his deed, he said, “You give sometimes because it makes you feel good. In this case, it has made me feel good.” Plus, he added, “And I have a new friend,” referring to the gift’s other recipient, Matthew.
Matthew, who’s known by the nickname “Superman,” is seen in the KOAT news report wearing his favorite superhero’s outfit as he tests out the van’s elevator system. The teenager is also shown sharing a hug with the restaurant owner and good-guy benefactor.
The news station in addition posted a link to the report on its Facebook page, where it attracted a lot of attention from the online community. The video clip is just over a minute long, and it explains the details of the heartwarming story – prompting people to share their views on it.
Facebook users thought the story was amazing, too, mainly because of Paternoster’s incredible generosity, and the comments duly rolled in. “That’s awesome! It’s great to know that there are people like this generous gentleman out there, helping those who need help!” someone wrote.
And judging from a few of the other comments that were left on the news station’s Facebook page, it’s clear that this was not the first time the restaurant owner had done a good deed for someone. Yes, it seems that Paternoster has a track record for this kind of behavior.
Someone else commented, “He is always doing amazing things for this community. I’m not surprised at all. Thank you Stephen!” The evidence suggests that Guerra-Candelaria is yet another on a long list of people whom the restaurant owner has helped.
A person who clearly knew Paternoster wrote that they “love to see Steve healing through his compassion for others.” And exclamations such as “God bless you Stephen” were commonplace on the Facebook thread. Through his kind actions, Paternoster has, then, become somewhat of a local hero.
Although Guerra-Candelaria never asked for his help, the kindhearted Paternoster went out of his way – and dug into his pockets – to give her something guaranteed to make her life that bit easier. And it’s selfless acts like these which give the rest of us hope; after all, it shows that there are still some decent people left in the world.