Kayden Clark, a 24-year-old transgender man with Asperger’s syndrome, was shot dead by police, who were responding to a suicide call at his residence in Mesa, Arizona on Thursday, reported ABC 15 Arizona. Last year Clark earned praise for sharing a YouTube video of himself being comforted by his dog, Samson, during a meltdown. Millions viewed the clip.
Update — Saturday Feb. 6 10:45 a.m. PST — A previous version of this article misgendered Kayden Clark. The article has since been updated.
Clark’s mother Stacia told the New York Daily News officers were well aware of Clark’s special needs before entering the residence. “Before the police arrived [he] wasn’t posing a threat to the community at all,” said Stacia, who referred to Clark by his legal name, Danielle Jacobs. “And the police came into [his] own place. They shot and killed a 24-year-old autistic, mentally ill individual whom they had been familiar with and aware of [his] special needs.”
Detective Esteban Flores, of the Mesa Police Department, confirmed to AZ Family that officers responded to a suicide call at the same residence two years earlier. When officers made contact with Clark on Thursday, he told them he had a knife and was going to hurt himself, Flores told the news outlet. “When [he] made contact with them [he] approached [two officers] with the knife, extended it out, and they felt threatened,” Flores said, adding that they fired their duty weapons. The incident is currently under investigation.
“I talked to [him] last night and the night before and [he] seemed fine,” Stacia told the NY Daily News.
When Clark’s meltdown video first went viral, he told The Huffington Post, “When I have a meltdown, I often have self-injurious behavior and I often self-harm.” That video has since been made private.
“This tragedy highlights the increased need for first responder training to teach first responders to effectively interact with autistic and special needs individuals,” Dr. Julian Maha, founder and CEO of the autism nonprofit, Kulture City, told The Mighty. “The training will give them much needed tools to effectively communicate with autistic individuals, help keep both parties safe and hopefully prevent tragedies like these.”
Bryan Chandler, who runs the Facebook community group, Asperger’s Syndrome Awareness – Bryan’s Advocacy, echoed those sentiments when asked to comment on the story.
“Police education is essential to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again,” Chandler told The Mighty. “It is important for them to understand what a meltdown is and the extreme reactions that occur when one is on-going. They should be trained on how to support someone with autism when having a meltdown, and I believe I speak for most people when I say the following: ‘I do not expect their education to be perfect, but they should at least be trained on how autism affects us, however basic.’ Verbal communication is difficult for us and a bit of understanding would have gone a long way here… This situation is evidence that more awareness is needed.”
No law enforcement officials were injured in the incident, and the officers involved were placed on administrative leave, which is standard for officer-involved shooting situations, reported ABC 15 Arizona.
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