Death of autistic boy, 8, at service ruled homicide

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

MILWAUKEE -- An autistic 8-year-old boy who died after he was wrapped in sheets during a prayer service suffocated, the medical examiner's office said Monday. The death was ruled a homicide.

Terrance Cottrell Jr. died because his chest was somehow restricted and could not expand, according to a statement issued by the office of the Milwaukee County coroner.

"Air was not able to get in or out," said Eileen Weller, the administrative manager.

The mother had been taking her son to the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith three times a week for the last three weeks in hopes of curing his autism, said David Hemphill, the church's pastor.

It was after more than an hour of prayer that a parishioner noticed the boy was no longer moving and called emergency workers, Hemp-hill said.

"We were asking God to take this spirit that was tormenting this little boy to death," Hemphill said. "We were praying that hard, but not to kill."

Hemphill said he has not talked to his brother or the boy's mother, Patricia Cooper, since Friday night. Cooper's voicemail was full when the Associated Press tried to reach her Monday evening.

Hemphill said church members had wrapped the boy in sheets to keep him from scratching himself and others, but he was allowed to sit "any way that he feels comfortable."

David Hemphill started the independent church in 1997. It meets twice a week and has a congregation of six families.

Autism is a developmental disability, typically diagnosed during the first three years of life, that affects the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.

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