The Death of Robert Saylor

Perhaps you’ve seen in the news that a young man with Down syndrome was reportedly killed–asphyxiated after being restrained by police officers when he refused to leave a movie theater. 

His name was Robert Saylor.  He was 26 years old.  You can go look at his picture here.

There are many friends within this community who are sad and angry.  I am too.  I am sad that a family lost their son and that there are many questions about how his death could have been prevented. 

And yes, stories like this push the bruise of the challenges of special needs that lie ahead for Nella and her friends.  And that hurts. 

I am heartbroken for the Saylor family and what they are going through right now.

If you would like to read more about the incident and the investigation, you can read the Washington Post article about it here.

You can join me in signing a petition requesting further investigation of the Frederick County sheriffs involved here.


Much love to each of your families this weekend.


Leave a Comment
  1. Hi Kelle……

    Such a sad story. Have you read what L.C.’s and Jace’s mom had to say about this? They are Pudge and Biggs (have you heard of them?).

    Her insight is very interesting……

    Happy Easter…..Susan from Boston

  2. Holy crap…sorry to use those words but they just some up my feelings so well. So once again we have law enforcement officers using the only way they know to handle things, with force. Things like this have happened in Australia too…surely someone involved had a brain and could have figured out to call his mother, or wait for the assistant to get back, or sit and speak to him and then coax him out….yes Kelly, I agree, its scary for our kids future, and saddening.

  3. I’m am deeply saddened for the
    Saylor family.

  4. So very sad! I know that law enforcement receive all sorts of training but maybe they should INCLUDE training for people with special needs! So very sad and so preventable! Why could someone not see past the stupid $9 dollars that they thought the theater was losing!

  5. I think that to be honest the people who were supposed to be in care of this poor young man are the ones who deserve to take the blame to an extent. Just because he has down-syndrome did not mean that Robert had a right to be allowed to rampage or take some rage, restraint needed to be used before he hurt somebody, having down syndrome does not automatically mean that he’s immune from a similar treatment by the law.

  6. I live where this happened. My neighbor was a friend to Robert. It’s incredibly sad. I do believe that the answer in this case is better education about special needs to police officers and other authorities, rather than punishment. I don’t believe the officers intended to harm him.

  7. SO glad you blogged about this, kelle. I know your voice carries so much weight and this will go so far to make sure justice happens. ox

  8. Thanks for posting about this!

  9. Oh man. Wow. People have so much to learn.

  10. This is devastating news!!!
    I too am scared for what this means for Hazel and others with Down Syndrome. We will be faced with enough challenges let alone something like this.
    So SAD!!!

  11. I have not yet heard the news. This makes me want to weep!

  12. Thank you for speaking out on this! There is an excellent editorial by the New York Times here:

    This man’s life was more important than the next showing of that movie!

  13. This is so sad for everyone involved. I will be keeping the Saylor family in my thoughts.

  14. This has left me feeling sad for this young man’s family and frightened for DS children. Why didn’t someone just pay for him to watch a second time, it would of bought some time until his mother arrived and I am sure she would of reimbursed the person. I have a hard time believing that 3 grown police officers couldn’t have resolved this issue in a much kinder, calmer and successful way. I have signed the petition…..

  15. The missing link in this is respect. Everyone deserves and has a right to the same respect. Robert Ethan Saylor deserved nothing less than respect. Please show him your respect and sign a petition, write a letter, make a call or Blog like Kellie!

  16. Sadly it’s already known that people die from asphyxia if restrained on their stomach, in a certain light his death was foreseeable & therefore preventable!
    My sympathy to everyone involved!

  17. Thank you for taking a stand. The Saylors need is to really around them and cast light onto the ugly actions that led to their son’s death.

  18. Thank you for taking a stand. The Saylors need is to really around them and cast light onto the ugly actions that led to their son’s death.

  19. Sad to say it’s my home town and where I still live today! Petition signed!

  20. This makes my heart hurt.

    It sounds like a lot of miscommunication and lack of education.

    If only the aide had told the movie staff the situation and THEN got the car. What if he wasn’t left alone? What if the officers spent a little more time being compassionate instead of confrontational?

    It’s so sad :(

    And while I wish it was all handled differently, there’s always a piece of us that wants our loved ones with a disability to not be treated any differently. Where do we draw the line?

  21. Thank you for posting about this Kelle.

  22. Thank you for posting this, Kelle. I have been very sad and angered by this for a while now. Should Robert Ethan Saylor been allowed to stay in theater without paying for a second ticket? No. Did his family leave him alone to navigate the world? No. He actually had an aide who left him briefly to get the car. These were off-duty police officers as in officers who where NOT in uniiform. No, I was not there but I can just imagine his fear. He cursed, he kicked out as 3 un-uniformed men hog-tied him–a method a restraint that is typically not used anymore. Clearly more training needs to be in place. Training on how to work with people with special needs–Ds, autism, etc. Not only that, but I am saddened to read that while his death has been ruled a homicide, the victim (Robert Ethan) is being blamed. . . because he has Down syndromes. Last time I checked, Down syndrome doesn’t cause death but having your face mushed into the floor of a movie theater for 1-2 minutes while three sets of handcuffs can cause death and it did. I truly, honestly believe that his rights have been violated. Well, I am off my soap box. I am very pleased that you have posted about this. Thank you for spreading awareness.

  23. this infuriates me!!! where is the common sense of people? was it really worth a 10 dollar movie ticket to put him in 3 sets of handcuffs face down? those police officers were idiots – seems to me they have more of a “special need” than robert did.. the need for compassion!

    so sad for the saylor family~ this situation could have had so many other endings.

  24. It saddens me that this happened and especially over a movie ticket. I know I’m a teacher and so maybe it’s something that’s just common sense, but come on…couldn’t you have TALKED to him. Nobody responds well under intimidation. I’m sure he was terrified. Petition signed. Prayers lifted up for the Saylors. Thanks for bringing this issue to light, Kelle.

  25. oh goodness. my heart just sunk into my stomach. I’ve been off news today. so so so very awful.

  26. I signed the petition, and I thank you for bringing it to your blog. I had no idea this tragedy occurred, and I need to know that we as a society are not okay with this sort of treatment towards ANY individual, special needs or not. I hope 100,000 people sign that petition.

  27. Signed, and believing with you that everyone deserves respect and humane treatment. Praying for this family.


  28. This is such a sad story and my heart goes out to the Saylor family. People with special needs need special consideration and the officers involved should have known that. Heartbreaking and hopefully a lesson will be learned and this young man will not have died in vain. Signed with a heavy heart ~

  29. It’s a heartbreaking, frightening, and maddening event, to be sure. A lot of things could have and should have been done differently and more education for not only law enforcement officers but also many other people is needed (there was likely no need for the theater employee to resort to calling security in such a short time frame). But I have to ask some of the commenters here to please choose their words carefully and refrain from maligning ALL law enforcement officers. They are not all power-drunk brutes. I sincerely doubt these men ever wanted to cause Mr. Saylor any harm. Most cops are good people. They are human and they can make errors in judgment just like anyone. In this case, these three men may in fact eventually be found at fault for Mr. Saylor’s death in civil court, should his parents pursue that avenue. From what little information is out there right now, it certainly sounds to me like they could be and perhaps should be. But taking this story and using it to make blanket statements about how awful cops are is ignorant and uncalled for.

  30. Sara V.,
    Thank you. True words.
    Xo -K

  31. Sara V.,
    Thank you. True words.
    Xo -K

  32. This whole story breaks my heart. Thank you for sharing the petition.

  33. Thank you for bringing attention to this tragedy. This is the DOJ phone number to their community relations. You can call and leave a message requesting an independent investigation onto Ethan’s death. Ethan deserves a fair investigation and justice. The number is 202-307-5138. Just leave a message.

  34. Oh dear, I didn’t know the story (I live in France) but it shocks me as obviously this young boy should have been dealt with with more gentleness and understanding! Of course it looks likely that no harm was intended, but harm has been caused, harm of the worst sort. I feel sorry for this family, when I think of how frightened and stressed Robert Saylor must have been. Had these deputies been more informed about Down syndrome, they would have shown patience, and this would have avoided such tragedy. We do have to open our eyes and appreciate and respect people who react differently. We are all different, and we belong to the same society. More kindness, understanding and knowledge are damn necessary, and your blog does favour these necessary things, Kelle. Thanks for the post!

  35. So very sad, and my thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. Here in my part of southern Ontario, we have a new task force that is called when police are dealing with a situation involving a person with special needs or mental health issues (I know, not the same thing, but require similar skill sets from officers at times). It was developed to avoid this very situation, which has happened all too often. So far it’s been successful. Hopefully it is a sign of the way society is moving, more acceptance and understanding. These officers have specialized training and an interest in working with persons in need.

  36. I had not heard this tragic story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Many prayers and thoughts with the Saylor family.

  37. This was such a sad story. It happened five minutes from our house (Frederick, MD) and a movie theater we go to regularly. I am ashamed of those local officers that treated this young man with such disrespect. Prayers to his family!

  38. Hadn’t heard of this story yet, but it deeply saddens me this happened, so incredibly unnecessary. Thank you for sharing this! Prayers for the young man and his family.

  39. Thank-you for adding your voice to this call to action, Kelle! Here is a really great resource with an example of a letter and where to send it if anyone is inspired to take additional action!

  40. I signed the petition. The story made me sick and angry. Our Sara is going to be 21 years old next month and I could see her digging her heels in and refusing to leave the theater. I could see that incident involving her. So much needs to change in our society to better understand the needs of others!

  41. Hi Kelle I signed the petition as the 5,000 signer!!! Hopefully they will get to the bottom of this.

  42. There is a training called non violent crisis restraint used in mental health and the education system that focuses on de-escalation. It would be of value to have our first responders trained in this.

  43. Thank you for adding your voice to this topic and to the voices of so many of us parents of children with Down syndrome who are scared for our children’s futures in such a simple, sympathetic way. I believe education, advocacy and inclusion is the way clear of such misunderstanding and mishandling.

  44. As a member of the Frederick community, I feel I must be missing something. While I have spent a good deal of my life working with children with developmental disabilities including Down Syndrome, I do not see what having a disability has to do with following standard rules. I feel that Ethan likely knew that in order to watch the movie, he needed to pay for it. Had he not become agitated, had his aid not left his side, would this have happened? I can’t say. But I am certain that if I went to the movie theater tonight and refused to leave, a similar scenario would play our in which the police would be called. Having a disability does not give anyone the excuse to not follow general rules.

    And I’m very sorry to those that think this is offensive. It’s a fine line when you want your child to be treated as “normal” in society but then to make excuses at every turn why your child cannot be treated as “normal”.

  45. Kelle, I had not heard about Robert and I appreciate that you shared about it. My heart broke reading the article and left me feeling very sad and defeated. I recognize and appreciate that there are two sides to every story but it just seems as though something went really wrong here. I can’t imagine that Robert Saylor was ever seen as a threat to THREE police officers and I regret so much that a simple misunderstanding led to Robert’s death. Clearly this should never have happened. I find it outrageous that the coroner’s report lists homicide as the cause of death and yet a grand jury found no cause to bring charges. I have joined you in signing the petition for further investigation and in sending love to the Saylor family. I’m so sorry this happened.

  46. To Kelle…so very saddened. Thank you for posting. I signed the petition yesterday.

    To Lauren….OFFENDED! You yourself have crossed that “fine line.” It’s comments like yours that make my husband and I not trust people like YOU with caring for or “working with” our daughter!!!

  47. I am so sorry for the family of Robert. It is heartbreaking when any family loses a child.

    That said, I am employed by Law Enforcment (LE). There are questions not answered by any of the articles I read. Did the officers know that the aide was getting the car? Did they think he was there by himself? Did anyone at the scene know that his mother was on her way? Never assume that these things are clear and LE should know. Just last week there was a toddler of 3 out on the sidewalk in front of a busy main street at 8am on a Saturday morning. Mom was inside, passed out from a night of drinking, child managed to open the front door and get out. Lucky for the child, a passerby stopped his vehicle and assisted while he called 911. If there was no responsible adult *with* him, they may have thought perhaps an un-responsible adult had dropped him off and left him. He apparently had a few hidden health issues as well. There was no way for the officers to know about his cardiac condition. Remember he’s a big man, and was combative as well. It could be that they tried but could not calm him down by speaking with him. The point here being that *we don’t know*. If the grand jury found the officers not at fault, there is probably a reason for that. I was not there to witness the event and I was not there to hear the testimony and witness accounts to the Grand Jury, and neither was anyone else here.

    I do know that the officers I work with are kind, generous and caring men who do a tremendous job in some very trying circumstances. I know five troopers who have lost their lives at either traffic stops (two were shot in the face as they approached the stopped vehicle) or from responding to incidents most of the general public would run the other way from.

  48. Thank you for sharing the petition link. I signed. This can not happen. Simply put. It can not happen again.

  49. Yes, it’s hard and sad to hear.

  50. You post a link on your IG to blog posts about you wrapping your kid in yoga pants, but you can’t post a link to this? You just give your critics a shitload of ammo don’t you?

  51. THANK YOU for posting about this. You have such a huge audience so this will reach more people and we can hopefully get to the bottom of this tragedy!

  52. I live in Frederick and it is horrifying that this happened. Its an incredibly sad situation for Robert Saylor’s family friends and our community at large. From what I understand that it was the aide’s usual practice to let him stay inside when it was raining (from what I’ve been told he had a sensory issue with the rain). I am ashamed that the officers acted the way they did but also that the people working at the movie theater did as well (from what I have observed they had to signal to the cops that someone was waiting in there, anytime I’ve been there the officers – in uniform or not – have to be alerted of a situation they don’t go and check the theaters on their own).
    I hope that there are many people who sign the petition- this isn’t something that can just get swept under the rug.

  53. Thank you for taking a stand on this.

  54. This is really a terrible story, something that 100% could have been prevented.

    On a lighter note…Did you read about the 15 year old boy named Eli, with Down syndrome who reached the base camp of Mt. Everest?? I read it on People Magazine. Very inspiring! Made me feel a bit better.

  55. I signed the petition! Law enforcement really needs to learn that that CANNOT use such force on people with special needs. This reminds me of the Kelly Thomas case out here in CA. It makes me so sad and angry…:(

  56. To those who believe that he got what he deserved because he refused to pay and was kicking and screaming and if he was a “normal” person he would have been treated the same way:
    Nobody ,not someone with Downs, or the average person, deserves to be killed over a movie ticket.
    Three vs one is insane. There is no reason what so ever for this to have happened. My 11 year old knows If you ok someone down there is always potential for someone to die from lack of oxygen.
    The face that I have heard people say that this was justified makes me sick. The fact that people say that this what people want because they say we should treat people with downs no different, just shown the ignorance of people.
    My heart breaks for this family and for him, can you only imagine the fear that he faced as three grown men sat on him and took his last breath away?
    So to the people out there who thinks this is ok how would you feel if this was your child? Downs or not? All this over a $10.00 movie ticket. Shameful.

  57. Oh Hugs, Kelle. I can imagine that this not only saddens but worries your heart deeply. I just finished a Teacher’s Aide training class. Teacher’s *AIDE*, for heaven’s sake. About the most minimal training one could have for a job. Fourteen hours of lecture. That’s it. And in those fourteen hours we covered the most basic information. This included ‘NEVER RESTRAIN SOMEONE IN THE PRONE POSITION’. For heaven’s sake, *I* know not to restrain someone on the floor prone. Certainly a member of the law enforcement community also knows this. Restraining a prone person is a tragedy waiting to happen. Period. Oh gosh… I came to see current pictures of Dash before I went to work, because ESD’s blog is about Dash’s new sweater. And now I’m just despondently sad about this news. When will the world remember the basics? Lift with your knees, not your back. Don’t restrain someone who’s prone. Wash your hands. Wear personal protection when dealing with blood of vomit. Don’t restrain someone who’s prone. Sigh.

    Love and hugs! Happy Easter Monday from Rhode Island
    Esther P

  58. My first thought when hearing about this was, what were his parents doing while this was happening? Knowing him better than anyone, why didn’t they just buy another ticket, or diffuse the situation as they have to similar situations in the past? I am not saying it is their fault, I am just not going to put this one on the theater or police as everyone else seems to be doing. It is a tragity, just horrible for all involved. But if assistance was needed for this young man, why weren’t his caregivers advocating for him?

  59. Bec74, just to clarify. I don’t think “he got what he deserved because he would not pay”. I never said that and I never thought that. I don’t believe *anyone* said that. Three vs one is not insane, it was the number on duty at the time. Generally speaking, when you have a situation with a combative person, often if there is more than one officer, they tend to calm down faster.
    As far as over the $10 movie ticket, that needs to be addressed to the movie theater staff. These officers were called by the staff.
    Kelle: I just wanted to present another side to this tragedy. I would be very, very surprised if the officers at the scene are not beating themselves up over this.

  60. …he cried out for his momma

  61. Kelle, my heart is so sad to hear of this young man’s death, which obviously could have been prevented with more communication and knowledge. Knowledge is key in this situation, and your beautiful blog has been such a launch pad for educating the public on Down Syndrome.

    I have to admit that I have been in a position of fear, and not knowing what to do on two different occasions with the same man who has Down Syndrome. He is a resident near our lake property, and we would often see him at the local bar on the lake. He is 38, so he’s an adult, but in many ways I have found that he has the mentality of a young boy in an older man’s body. I was always very friendly with him, as were all of the other patrons, but I found that even though he knew I was married, it was a concept he didn’t really understand. He had natural human urges, but didn’t really understand boundaries. He was often dropped off at the bar by his elderly parents, and they would just expect that he would get a ride home from someone. I gave him a ride home one night, but when we got to his house he got very angry and wouldn’t get out of my car. He is also very large, and I didn’t really know what to do. After gently coaxing him for a very long time, he got out and kicked my car and went in to his house. I had such mixed feelings about the situation.

    Later in the summer he walked over to my house. I was outside gardening and had a Stanley knife laying by me. When I went to get it to cut some twine, it wasn’t there. I asked him if he had taken my knife, and he said “yes”. He patted the front of his pants and told me I would have to get it. My husband came out at that point and almost scolded him like a child. He gave it back, but he was very angry again. For the rest of the summer he would just wander over to our home and look in the door, or sit in our garage if the door was left open.

    As much as I want to be his friend, I don’t know how to handle his anger. I’m sorry if this sounds mean, but I truly thought that a characteristic of Down Syndrome was a hug everyone, loving kind of personality. I want to be more educated so that he isn’t left out of activities, but I don’t know how to be with him and feel safe.

    When I read this story, my first thought was of this young man at the lake. I just wonder if he got very angry, and his size made it harder for the security to handle him. I can think of so many ways that this could have been handled differently, but I wasn’t there. Honestly, I would have just left him alone until his aid came back, but maybe they didn’t know he was with anyone.

    I wish I had the answers.

  62. I’m afraid that this loss is only one of many. The police force here in Phoenix AZ has done the same to other people with mental handicaps.

    Excessive force used by police has taken the lives of too many for too long.

    This abuse goes deep within our culture and it is something we must start questioning.

    I am sorry for another families loss. I hope we can find a way to stop this senseless violence.

  63. How heartbreaking. I will sign this.

  64. So sad.

  65. Kelle!!

    What a brave, well written post! Thank you ever so much for sharing some of your thoughts about this tough situation with us.

    Information is power and the more knowledge the Down syndrome community can spread and get our families and their extended families and friends & coworkers discussing these situations, the better! Facing the debate head on about the challenging situations faced by officers and our communities is a tricky balancing act! Directly debating out views will get us all thinking of new ways to break down stereotypes and aversions on all sides.

    Sheri, that you for your thoughts! Do try to talk and wave and greet the man! I am so glad you helped him with a ride and sorry how it ended up!

    If the man you know lives with his parents, why not have a friendly chat with them? Start to Build up a small (or big someday!) relationship out of kindness and understanding. Offer your view on how independent he is and eventually get to well here’s an odd incident that Happened. He has a temper on occasion; don’t we all, can I call you next time to help me?.

    Here you have that extra option, generally an aide or parent or caregiver to talk to besides someone’s likely also challenging spouse.. The neighbors who are mean old grumpy man or woman who gripe about your activities or gossip about your lawn maintenance regardless of how well you care for it are frustrating too. A wild loud partying young adult neighbor might wander home or drive drunk & unless you know the parents you can’t prevent that disaster.

    We all have out challenges & outbursts. If the guy refusing to leave was a thin 85 year old grandma you wouldn’t restrain at all either. It’s not special treatment it’s APproRiAte treatment!! A mean notorious drug dealer killed in this fashion would be a tragedy too–and would we say well restrain him properly or good riddance.

    Yes. People with ds might have a lower threshold for asphyxiation but I think anyone of a larger side might likely share those same concerns and proper precautions would be necessary.

    I am sure the officers feel awful. However that doesn’t matter! DS didn’t cause the event. Nothing he did was something that a person on drugs or having a psychological breakdown might do. His heart is not a Ds heart–people of all walks of life have unseen medical conditions the police face every day.

    The police were alerted RIGhtFuL so and I’m thrilled because they have a HIgHer standard of care and expertise than the theater. We MUsT hold them accountable for each mistake. Their actions and inquiries MUST have a very visible high level of transparency in order to garner our future TrusT and ReSpEcT. Those qualities are not granted to the uniform or city–they are earned and earned DAILY by many millions of hard working professionals. We aren’t judging all – just those involved here.

    And no, people with Ds do not have a magic formula to happiness. Many people with DS are exceptionally skilled socially & understand certain nuances of human nature better than most of us. Lets say an uncanny ability to know when someone needs a hug; when to give space. A better handle on what makes them happy and a more confident sense of self to be able to set their sights and persist until they achieve it. Or restrategize when the goal needs adjustment. They make choices and much harder than many of us to do basic tasks we take for granted. They know the VALuE of their hard work and will fight to get there but will seek help long before most when out of their league.

    But knowing your self without as much external pressure about what you SHOULD do leads to stamina and persistence which might be tricky for us to understand. We might be happy to disagree; very empathetic but steadfast in our opinion.

    Hmmm sounds like a lot of successful executives and movers & shakers I know. These traits are highly valued when applied to the right efforts!

  66. My heart aches for the Saylor family.

  67. My heart aches for this family…

  68. I’m still so sad about all of this. This happened in my state. In my county. In a theater that I frequent. Very heartbreaking. :(

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