The Patriot Ledger
When Michael and Carolyn Riley gave their three children their daily doses of clonidine, they told the youngsters it was the “happy medicine.”
Night and day, they dispensed the tablets prescribed for the youngsters’ hyperactivity, and gave so many to their youngest child, 4-year-old Rebecca, that she grew listless at school, unable even to walk up the steps on her own. Then she got sicker, and died an agonizing, overdose death on Dec. 13, 2006.
Two months later, her parents are in jail without bail, awaiting a murder trial. A respected psychiatrist has surrendered her medical license, and the state Department of Social Services has once again been thrust into painful soul searching over what the agency did and didn’t do to protect the little girl’s life.
This week’s arrest of the Rileys also turned the spotlight on a couple who in many ways were ciphers to friends and neighbors, who seemed to be struggling with personal troubles - and their own children - almost from the start.
How the troubles began is an unknown, too. While Michael’s rages and Carolyn’s repeated assurances to her doctors and DSS are now known, the long path that ultimately ended with murder charges remains in shadows.
Michael Riley grew up in Holyoke, Carolyn DiSalvo in Weymouth. Former classmates don’t recall much about them. (One says Michael “got picked on a lot” in elementary school.) He graduated from Weymouth High in 1991, she in 1992.
They barely knew each other in high school. But Carolyn’s mother, Valerie Berio, says they “hung out with the same friends” and started dating.
“They’re each other’s soul mate,” Berio said.
Her daughter, whose maiden name was Carolyn DiSalvo, met a man three years older than she was at the South Shore Plaza while she was still in high school. She became pregnant with a daughter in 1992, at 17.
The couple lived briefly with her mother, then moved to public housing in Weymouth.
She became involved with Michael Riley shortly after the baby was born. Her boyfriend moved out and Riley moved in.
On March 25, 1994, Carolyn voluntarily gave custody of her daughter to the state Department of Social Services.
Four days later she and Riley were married by the late Bernie Reisberg, a well known civic and business leader in Quincy.
The couple’s first child, Gerard, was born in 1995. They moved from Weymouth to Springfield in search of work and a cheap apartment. Berio says they temporarily lived in a homeless shelter.
While Carolyn stayed home, Michael worked odd jobs - and had his first serious run-in with the law. In April 1998 he was arrested for assault and battery in Lynn for kicking someone. He was sentenced to a year’s probation, which ended in 1999.
Their second child, Kaitlynne, was born in Springfield in 2000. Rebecca Jeanne was born there on April 11, 2002.
“A floppy doll”
In the late spring of 2004, shortly after Rebecca’s second birthday, the Rileys returned to Weymouth, to a public-housing apartment Berio helped them find. According to Berio, DSS had ordered the Rileys to see a child psychiatrist while they were still in Springfield.
That summer Dr. Kayoko Kifuji at Tufts-New England Medical Center diagnosed Rebecca with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder - a rare but not unheard-of assessment for a child of 28 months. She sent the Rileys home with the initial prescription for clonidine, a blood-pressure drug which can be used to calm kids with ADHD. She would later also prescribe Depakote and Seroquel after diagnosing Rebecca as also suffering from bipolar disorder.
The Rileys kept to themselves, as usual. In June 2005, Michael was arrested by Weymouth police for allegedly molesting a 13-year-old girl - Carolyn’s first child from the relationship she had before marrying Michael. The girl was visiting in the Rileys’ home at the time. Michael was ordered to leave the house, and went to live with his mother in Weymouth. It’s not clear how often he continued to see Carolyn and their children.
In September of 2005, he was indicted for attempted rape of a child under 14, indecent assault and battery, and giving pornography to a child. He is scheduled to go to trial on those charges in May. He and Carolyn insisted the incident never happened.
In late 2005, Kifuji and others in contact with the Riley became alarmed at the quantity of clonidine that Carolyn was giving Rebecca. Kifuji told her the drug could kill her daughter, and threatened to file a “51A” abuse report with DSS.
By the fall of 2006, conditions were unraveling for Rebecca and the family. Teachers and the nurse at the Johnson Early Childhood Center noticed how weak Rebecca was- “like a floppy doll,” the nurse said. Carolyn was getting clonidine refills almost every week, avoiding contact with the school and canceling therapy appointments.
In October, Michael slammed Gerard’s head against the back window of his pickup truck. Carolyn got a restraining order to keep him away, but let it lapse a few weeks later. She and the children moved to Hull on Nov. 14, along with her half-brother and his fiancee. Michael moved in, too.
Neighbors on Lynn Avenue quickly grew wary of Michael’s yelling and other signs of a household in chaos.
Supervision of the family was moving in two directions: On Dec. 7, Kufuji met with Carolyn and Rebecca. Encouraged by Carolyn’s report, she planned to cut the dosage of the girl’s “happy medicine.” On Dec. 12, a DSS social worker got her supervisor’s go-ahead for an unannounced home visit within the next few days.
She never got the chance. At 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 13, Rebecca was found dead on her parents’ bedroom floor.
Friends and classmates didn’t know what to think when the Rileys attended a bowling league Christmas party on Dec. 17 and a class reunion on Dec. 30.
With no outward signs of grief, they displayed a photo of Rebecca on a bowling-alley scoring table. When a team member expressed his condolences, Michael told him, “There’s nothing to say.”
Lane Lambert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.