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Mother who faked son's genius status fights to win him back

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

DENVER -- He was proclaimed the "greatest genius to ever grace the Earth." With a purported IQ of 298, he was taking college classes when most children his age were starting grade school.

But 8-year-old Justin Chapman's genius is in doubt after his mother admitted faking some of his test results. The boy has been put in foster care after what was thought to be a suicide attempt. And his mother is now fighting for custody of her son.

Elizabeth Chapman, 29, is hoping social workers will recommend at a hearing April 12 that custody be returned to her. Her parents and the father who has not seen Justin since he was 2 are also believed to be seeking custody.

The boy has been a celebrity since age 3. But things began to fall apart last month after reporters examined his purported accomplishments and the role of his mother.

Chapman admitted she fabricated most if not all of her son's top achievements: a perfect 800 on the math section of the SAT, a genius score at age 3 on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale test and an IQ score of 298-plus on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale at age 6.

'Poor choices'

"I just got caught up in it," she told the Rocky Mountain News, which broke the story along with The New York Times. "I wanted to be a good mom and give him opportunities I didn't have. I don't do anything halfway. It was wrong. I made some poor choices."

Laura Brody of Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth said Justin's mother sent his SAT scores in 2000. She believed the scores mostly because his two IQ scores were high.

"I find it difficult to understand how a mother can think this helps her child," Brody said.

Chapman, 29, avoided trial on abuse and neglect charges by admitting she created an "injurious environment" for Justin.

What that might mean is not clear, since Chapman and her attorney refused to comment. Hospital workers who treated Justin after his mother feared he took too many Motrin pain reliever pills in November said he hid under furniture when he could not answer some of their questions.

The boy told investigators he took only one Motrin.

University of Colorado psychology professor Don Weatherley said Chapman may be a "stage mother," or someone who projects her identity onto her children and does not accept the youngster for who he really is.

Last summer, Chapman and her son moved to a rented house in a middle-class subdivision in suburban Broomfield so Justin could be treated for a hearing problem in Denver.

Suicidal thoughts

In the fall, Justin reportedly began to throw tantrums after being enrolled in a private school for gifted children. After he was hospitalized, mental health workers concluded he was fantasizing about suicide, according to records cited in news accounts.

A neighbor, Charlene Kociuba, said she believes Chapman stole her 16-year-old son's SAT scores. She said she once saw Chapman prep Justin for an IQ test by quizzing him as if he was on the television show "Jeopardy!"


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