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'Motherly Love' Cited in Sons' Deaths

Courts: Friends say Carol Carr, who faces two counts of murder, shot the adults to end their suffering from Huntington's disease.

June 20, 2002|JEFFREY GETTLEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GRIFFIN, Ga. — "I believe y'all are looking for me," were the first words out of Carol Carr's mouth.

She was waiting on a couch in the nursing home lobby when the police came. She had just shot her sons, first Andy, 41, then Randy, 42.

Carr had reached the end of her rope, plagued for years by a demon of an illness, Huntington's disease, and couldn't stand the sight of her boys wasting away in soiled sheets, unable to talk, move or even swallow.

Now she faces two counts of murder.

Today, Carr will be led into a courtroom in this small Georgia town, with its rusty old bridges and blooming magnolia trees, for what many here said was the ultimate act of motherly love.

"She decided to go to jail for the rest of her life rather than watch her boys suffer like that," friend Debbie Henry said. "That was her sacrifice."

Not far away, Carr's surviving son sits in his living room with a blank look on his face.

He's got the disease too. So might his 12-year-old daughter. There's a 50% chance.

"We've been cursed," said Jimmy Carr, 38.

The Carrs' story brings attention to a bleak, degenerative condition that stalks families from generation to generation, attacking brain cells until sufferers are reduced to thin piles in bed.

More than 25,000 Americans have Huntington's disease. And there's no prevention or cure.

"It's one of the cruelest diseases out there," said Frances Saldana of Fountain Valley, whose three children have the disease. "It attacks your dignity and respect. And when people see someone yelling or jerking around or drooling, they don't feel sympathy for them, like a cancer or leukemia patient. They just want to get away.

"Her spirit must have broken," Saldana said of Carr.

The 63-year-old Carr is in jail and has not spoken with reporters since her arrest.

She was born in Atlanta, the daughter of a factory worker. When she was 20 years old, she married into a Huntington's family. Hoyt Carr was a mattress maker, with meaty hands and a big chest. His mother was in a mental hospital. At first, no one knew what was wrong with her. They thought she was going senile because of her memory loss, mood swings and diminished coordination.

Hoyt's mother died in 1965, and later doctors made the connection that she had Huntington's disease. By that point, Carol had given birth to three boys.

Hoyt's brother was the next to go. He shot himself in 1977 when he started to come down with symptoms and couldn't work.

Then Hoyt started to slip. The disease hit him when he was 45, the typical age for onset of the disease, although it can come much earlier. His moods grew dark and he would yell over nothing. Then he forgot things. Then he started twitching.

"It was horrible," said Carol's sister-in-law Janelle Scott. "To watch a strong, handsome man turn into what he was, it ruined Carol."

Hoyt died in 1995. Carol spent 15 years watching his condition deteriorate. But the suffering would continue.

That same year, Randy and Andy started to get the shakes. Because it is hereditary, half the children of Huntington's sufferers get the disease.

"It wasn't long till they were all, all, all messed up," Jimmy said.

(Sometimes, the words get stuck. Jimmy's in the first stage of the disease.)

First Randy was sent to a nursing home. Two years later, Andy joined him.

The guilt began to tighten around Carol's heart. "Carol would sit there and cry and cry and tell us she should have never brought children into this world," Scott said.

Still, her friends don't think she went to the SunBridge nursing home in Griffin the night of June 8 intending to kill.

Carol always carried a gun, a little gray .25-caliber automatic. She kept it in her purse and said it was for protection for all the driving she did, sometimes late at night. That night, Carol had come with a carton of chocolate milk. It was Andy's favorite.

But when she walked into his room, she found Andy writhing in bed, pulling at his catheter, his cheeks soaked with tears.

"That's when she just lost it," said Henry, who said Carol recounted the episode to her.

According to police, Carol shot both sons in the head--they shared a room--and then walked into the lobby and waited for the officers to show up.

Today, she plans to ask for bond; her lawyer said she's not a danger to anyone. "She didn't kill those boys," said attorney Virgil Brown. "The disease did. They were dead years ago."

There's no assisted-suicide law in Georgia. But Brown said there are lesser charges, such as involuntary manslaughter, that the grand jury could indict her on when it convenes in August.

So far, Brown has received countless offers of help for woman with the nightmare of a life.

One Georgia talk show host even volunteered to sign the jail bond himself.

Times researcher John Beckham contributed to this report.

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