Death in the Woods
Following a snowfall, Rod lured Shaun into a forested area on the ruse of building a fort. Rod carried a baseball bat. “You never know when you’ll need one,” he reportedly quipped.
Persuading Shaun to walk through the snow in front of him, Rod followed in the footsteps of the larger boy.
Deep in the woods, at the foot of a lightning-torn elm — far from any possible help for his victim — Rod swung his bat. Shaun fell to his knees, exclaiming, “God help me!” Again and again Rod smashed him, leaving the body where it fell.
Rod then brought Peterson and Cash to the site to view the body, shocking them into silence with threats of similar treatment if they talked.
Shaun’s parents reported the boy missing. Three weeks later, following a tip from Cash, police found the body and subsequently arrested Rod.
Tried as an adult and convicted of second-degree murder, Rod became the youngest inmate in the Massachusetts prison system.
According to his family, Rod’s violent thoughts stopped after his arrest, when he was taken off methylphenidate. He also started to grow, quickly adding inches and pounds.
In December 2001, the State Parole Board denied his request for parole, but acknowledged “his good institutional behavior and his expressions of remorse.” The board indicated his next chance would come in 2006.
“The Drug Was an All-Important Factor”
His mother, Janice, said she would never have given the drug to her son if she knew then what she knows now. Judi Matthews agreed, reflecting on her brother before he was put on drugs. “He was a great kid. Rod went everywhere with me,” she said. “I never had problems with him, ever.”
Fred Baughman, M.D., is a pediatric neurologist who has followed the Shaun Ouillette murder and what led up to it. He told Freedom that family members informed him Rod Matthews “was a nice, good kid. There was nothing angry or violent or aggressive about him until the ADHD diagnosis and the Ritalin* that went with it.
“He began to have very disturbing, violent thoughts about killing and things like this,” Baughman said. “I have come to believe that violent, angry thoughts are commonplace with amphetamines and they can intrude acutely, that is, within days of starting the drug. So I hear stories all the time, ‘This child was never an angry child, never an aggressive child, until the Ritalin’ or ‘until the Adderall’* or what have you. And they begin to have crazy, frequently violent thoughts. And it can be right away or it can be after a lag period.”
Concluding his assessment of Matthews’ crime, Baughman said, “I believe that the drug was an all-important factor in his having murdered.”
“He Killed Me as Well”
To say that Shaun’s mother, Jeanne Quinn, misses her son would be a terrible understatement. For years after his death, she continued to set his place at the family dinner table.
By all accounts, Shaun was a good, kind person, willing to help others, a careful guardian of his younger sister, a boy to make parents proud. The loss of such a child under any circumstances is a great tragedy.
“I died,” Quinn told Freedom. “I’m a dead person. [Rod Matthews] didn’t just kill Shaun. He killed me as well.”
It appears obvious, in retrospect, that the murder of Shaun Ouillette could have been prevented by responsible parties who knew of Rod’s behavior. But no one took the matter seriously, and no one spoke out.
In examining questions about this case, one that riveted media attention, Freedom looked for answers, with a view toward the larger picture of America’s educational system. Before that fateful November day, Rod’s behavior set off no alarms among either teachers or classmates. That was nearly two decades ago. What about today? What mindset allows teachers, parents and students to dismiss the threats of a troubled youth as the idiosyncrasies of “just another medicated problem child”?
MORE MONEY, LESS LITERACY
Despite ever-increasing sums spent on education, and occasional reports of short-lived turnarounds, the U.S. literacy rate plummeted from fifth among world nations in the 1960s to 49th by 1999, its lowest rating ever.1
Other indicators include a decades-long drop in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores and no improvement in elementary school reading levels, despite major infusions of federal dollars.
INCREASED FUNDS BRING NO RESULTS
ALTHOUGH INFLATION-ADJUSTED EXPENDITURES per American public school student doubled since 1970, student reading scores failed to improve. Above, National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scores (age 9) stagnate, despite increasing inflation-adjusted federal spending per student.2
SCHOLASTIC APTITUDE TEST SCORES PLUNGE
BEGINNING IN 1963, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores began a long dive — a plunge so deep that, in 1995, test officials “recentered” the results to artificially push scores back into a higher range.3 Coinciding with the 1963 crash was the introduction of psychiatric and behavioral science methods that same year.
1. Jack Fenimore, “Preserving Anonymity,” Responsive Database Services, Inc., March 1999.
2. David Rosnick, “Child’s Play?”, Center for Economic and Policy Research Briefing Paper, August 29, 2003, Statistical Abstract of the United States 2002 and National Center for Education Statistics.
3. Jeanne Allen, “Watered Down Version: SAT Losing Credibility as Yardstick,” Atlanta Journal, September 20, 2000, and “SAT Rejiggering Reflects Decline in U.S. Education,” Austin American-Statesman, April 17, 1995.