Neighbors say house filthy, parents neglectful
They say three children always appeared to be medicated and often were incoherent
The Patriot Ledger
Just three hours after the death of their 4-year-old daughter in December, Michael and Carolyn Riley were back in their old Weymouth neighborhood, knocking on doors and letting people know what happened.
"They didn't look upset. They weren't crying," said one of the couple's former neighbors in Weymouth's Lakeview Manor, a public housing complex on the shore of Whitmans Pond.
Neighbors interviewed yesterday, none of whom wanted to be identified by name, said they are devastated, but not entirely surprised, by Rebecca Riley's death by an overdose of prescription pills.
Rebecca and her brother and sister, Gerard, 11, and Kaitlynne, 6, were all "sweet, good kids, with emotional issues," said one neighbor.
The three children always appeared to be medicated and often were incoherent, neighbors said.
"Rebecca always looked groggy, and she would lean back against her mother and her eyes would be rolling back," said one neighbor, who said her children used to play with the Riley kids.
Investigators say that the Rileys gave all three children powerful prescription drugs that kept them quiet and lethargic. Carolyn Riley told police that all three had been diagnosed with mental illness and that she gave them medications each day to treat their symptoms. Rebecca died of the combined effects of at least two of the three prescription drugs and two over-the-counter drugs she was taking, according to the state medical examiner.
Gerard Riley, 11, was described by Weymouth neighbors as being a caretaker to his younger siblings, often picking them up at the school bus or watching them outside, saying he couldn't wake his mother up because she had a headache.
Neighbors say that Michael Riley was strict, and that there was often loud yelling coming from the home. They said the Rileys' house was filthy, with trash bags piled high and feces on the floor of the bedrooms upstairs. Living next door, the stench would come through heating vents, neighbors said.
Michael Riley, 34, had not been living in the Weymouth home since his arrest in 2005 on charges of attempted rape of a 13-year-old girl.
After Rebecca's death, Michael told police he "yelled a lot" at the kids but said he never hit them except for a "quick smack on the butt," according to an affidavit filed by a state trooper in the murder case.
"I never saw them beat their kids, but they were neglectful," a neighbor in Weymouth said. "I don't think they intentionally killed her, and I don't think they're the only ones to blame. It goes from doctors to the school, to social services."
After Michael Riley was charged with attempted rape, he moved out of the house and many neighbors turned against the family, the neighbors said. They said the Rileys' home was vandalized, eggs were thrown at their car, and Michael Riley was beaten up by some neighbors in November.
Shortly after that attack, Carolyn Riley, 32, and her three children moved out of the Weymouth apartment.
They moved to the home on Lynn Avenue in Hull, where Rebecca was found dead on her parents' bedroom floor on Dec. 13.
Phyllis Lipton, 51, has been living next door to the Rileys' former home in Hull since 1972.
She was excited when she found out a family with children was moving in, so her 5- and 10-year-old children might have someone to play with.
"I saw them once play outside on a weekend. There were no adults out there watching and they were very loud and coming into my yard. They seemed to be running very wildly, like they had some freedom and they were going crazy," Lipton said.
Lipton didn't know about the court order for Michael Riley to stay away from the home. She saw him there several times.
She never saw the family leave the house, except for the one time she saw Carolyn Riley going to the bus stop.
"I never heard a peep out of the kids other than that one day they were playing outside," Lipton said.
Lipton said the street has mostly elderly residents, and that the neighborhood is quiet and peaceful, with a playground just one street away.
"When you never hear of these things or know about it, it doesn't dawn on you that there's something going on, or that the kids were being drugged," Lipton said. "There were two other adults in the house, and I don't understand why they didn't do anything, because that's just as bad."
Kristen Walsh may be reached at email@example.com.
‘He’s never done anything
out of malice’
Doing their best?
with ‘difficult’ kids
The Patriot Ledger
While prosecutors painted a picture of nightmarish neglect and abuse in the Riley household, relatives described the couple accused of murdering their 4-year-old daughter as trying to do their best with difficult children.
A woman who answered the phone at Michael Riley’s mother’s house in Weymouth and identified herself as his sister, said that Rebecca was a “lovely little girl” who was hyperactive.
Carolyn and Michael Riley are accused of intentionally overdosing Rebecca with a prescription drug. But relatives say it wasn’t their fault.
“I think the primary issue here is, why was an adult medicine prescribed for a child?” Riley’s sister said.
Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, a psychiatrist at Tufts-New England Medical Center, had prescribed clonidine for Rebecca when the child was 28 months old. That’s when the doctor diagnosed her with both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder. Clonidine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat high blood pressure in adults but is also prescribed to treat hyperactivity in children.
“(The parents) were giving the medication they were told to give,” the woman said.
After the Rileys were arraigned in Hingham District Court yesterday morning on murder charges, Valerie Berio, Carolyn Riley’s mother, also blamed the doctors involved with the family.
“Nobody ever told them not to give her (Rebecca) cold medication (with clonidine),” she said.
The medical examiner ruled Rebecca died from the combined effects of several drugs in her system: clonidine, Depakote, an anti-seizure medication used to treat bipolar disorder in children, and two over-the-counter cold medicines.
Berio said Rebecca was a “tomboy. She was tough to keep up with. She climbed out of her crib at 18 months.”
But Carolyn Riley’s half-brother James McGonnell told investigators that Michael Riley would tell his wife to give the kids drugs when he thought they were “acting up.”
Berio said she was pleased when Michael Riley moved back in with the family after being ordered by authorities to leave in 2005 when he was charged with sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl. Berio said the assault charge against her son-in-law was false.
“I was concerned about my grandchildren not having their father in the house,” she said. “That’s when the kids’ medications got changed.”
Carolyn Riley took out a restraining order against her husband last October, after he allegedly grabbed their 11-year-old son by the neck and banged his head against the window of a pickup truck. Berio said the boy had behavioral problems.
“(The boy) has been hospitalized for problems. He has been so far out of line. I’ve had to hold him down waiting for the ambulance,” Berio said.
Riley told investigators that he suffered from intermittent rage disorder, but the woman who identified herself as his sister said “he is a sweet guy.”
“The teachers liked him, the neighbors liked him,” she said. “He’s never done anything out of malice.”
She also said that when Rebecca and her 6-year-old sister occasionally slept over at her house, the girls came with well-packed backpacks and instructions about the medications they were on.
“I don’t see (Carolyn Riley) as neglectful,” she said. “She was organized and this was what her whole life was about, these children.”
Julie Jette may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.