Drivers angered at signs

Metro West Daily News, Boston/January 24, 2007
By Peter Reuell

Sudbury -- A group of demonstrators yesterday angered passersby, prompting them to shout out car windows and make obscene gestures at the sign holders, who demanded a list of medications taken by young murder suspect John Odgren.

The group said its goal was to educate the community about the dangers of psychiatric drugs, but most said the demonstration five days after the death of Lincoln-Sudbury freshman James Alenson was ill-timed and inappropriate.

"This kind of thing just seems like a bizarre sidelight that groups like this would show up at a time like this and try to inflame tensions when the community is grief-stricken," Lincoln-Sudbury Superintendent and Principal John Ritchie said. "The message I'm trying to convey is we are busy taking care of much more important things than Tom Cruise and Scientology," said Ritchie.

The demonstrators, nine members of the Citizen's Commission on Human Rights, an advocacy group founded by the Church of Scientology in 1969, gathered at the intersection of Rte. 27 and Concord Road to hold a banner that read, "Psychiatry's toxic drugs cause suicides and acts of violence."

Several members also held smaller signs that mentioned stabbing suspect Odgren, who was on several prescription drugs. Signs included slogans like, "What psychiatric drugs was John Odgren prescribed?" and "Stop combining drugs to make walking timebombs."

Odgren, 16, has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, and according to his attorney was taking several prescription medications at the time of the stabbing. Odgren lives in Princeton but attended a special education program at L-S.

"There's a lot of concern around the country when kids are becoming violent on psychiatric drugs," CCHR New England Director Kevin Hall said yesterday. "We feel it's in the public's interest that people really know what the drugs are. We feel it's vital to the community to know the dangers of (these) drugs."

The timing of the protest, which came on the same day as the private funeral service for stabbing victim Alenson, left some community members aghast.

"This is not a serious request by a serious group," School Committee Chairman Mark Collins said of the demand that Odgren's medical records be made public.

"Quite frankly, I think it...takes away from a very difficult day for the Alenson family. This is a very serious event, and first and foremost anyone who looks at it has to be outrageously empathetic to the Alenson family, and particularly today."

Hall, however, rejected the idea that the protest was ill-timed.

"What we're trying to do is prevent another dead teen," he said.

"We understand the parents are going through the tragedy of losing their kids, but we want to educate the public," Boston resident Abbi Baldarelli said as she held one end of the banner. "We're trying to prevent something tragic from happening again."

Area residents, however, didn't seem interested in getting the message.

"I'm not sure I have a comment," said one woman, who refused to give her name, after questioning Hall about the reason for the protest. "This is something that, maybe, should be in Boston. I think it's more of an outside issue, a background issue. (This has) put a lot of stress on people in this area."

During the hour-long protest, several passing motorists simply shook their heads at the signs. Others flashed obscene gestures at CCHR members as they passed, and several shouted from car windows.

"Have you ever seen a schizophrenic off his drugs? Obviously not," one woman shouted before driving away.

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