MIAMI — The video is heartbreaking and chilling.
Security footage from a Florida condominium complex shows the moment a woman, identified by authorities as 45-year-old Patricia Ripley, first tried to drown her son Thursday evening in a canal in West Kendall, an unincorporated area of Miami.
Alejandro Ripley, 9, had severe autism and was nonverbal.
Ripley holds Alejandro’s hand in the video, which was first obtained by Spanish-language television station Univision. She appears to caress his face and head and rub his back.
Moments later, the footage shows Ripley take the boy by the arm and shove him into the canal, located behind the Kendall Acres Condominiums, before running away. She looks back several times over her shoulder as she vanishes out of the camera’s view.
Watch the video of Alejandro Ripley’s near-drowning below, courtesy of Univision. Warning: The footage may be disturbing to some viewers.
Several seconds later, she returns into the video frame with one of multiple bystanders who authorities later said rushed to Alejandro’s aid after hearing screaming. The man is seen lowering himself into the water to pull the boy to safety.
Alejandro appeared unhurt, so no one called police or paramedics, authorities said. He and his mother walked away.
About an hour later, Alejandro was dead.
According to Miami-Dade County detectives and prosecutors, Ripley took the 9-year-old to a second canal near the Miccosukee Golf & Country Club and, with no witnesses to save him that time, shoved him once again into the water.
Alejandro’s body – clad in a blue Captain America T-shirt and a diaper – was found floating in the canal Friday morning.
The boy had previously been a student at Great Heights Academy, a Miami-area school for children with special needs. Miami-Dade County civil court records show the school sued Patricia Ripley and her husband, Aldo Ripley, in 2016 for more than $4,000 in unpaid tuition for their son.
It was not clear when Alejandro had last attended the school but the Miami Herald reported that he was being tutored at home at the time of his death. The school’s administrators shared on Facebook both the news of his alleged abduction and the subsequent news of his slaying.
“Ale, we will forever miss you,” a post on the school’s Facebook page read. It was accompanied by a video of Alejandro working with a teacher. “Praying you rest in peace.”
A witness who lives at the condo complex told WPLG he saw Alejandro in the canal behind his home but didn’t think much of it.
“Kids fall in the canal all the time,” said the witness, who declined to speak on camera. “Usually, you grab them, yank them out and away you go.”
Alejandro appeared to be seated in water that was chest deep, the man said.
“The only odd thing was she kind of started screaming and called his name, and then turned around and ran off screaming,” the man told the news station. "He was just sitting there, and I tried to speak to him a couple of times and he looked at me, and that’s when she returned with an older couple.
”At the time, I thought they were together because that woman was giving it to her, screaming, ‘What are you doing? Why’d you leave the kid there?‘”
The witness described the bystanders pulling Alejandro from the water. Video footage shows them drying the boy off before he and his mother leave.
“Unfortunately, when she took him to the second canal, there was no one there,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told The Associated Press on Saturday. “She tried it once, and people rescued him. He was alive. He could have stayed alive. She intended, from all the facts of the case, to kill him.”
Because he was nonverbal, Alejandro could not tell his rescuers how he ended up in the canal near the condo community, Fernandez Rundle said.
“We talk about children being voiceless. This is another level of voicelessness,” the prosecutor told the AP. “He was incapable of saying, ‘Mommy put me in the water.’”
Miami-Dade County Jail records show Ripley is being held without bond.
Aldo Ripley sobbed Friday as he spoke to reporters following his wife’s bond hearing.
“We love Alejandro, and we don’t agree with whatever they said about my wife,” a masked Aldo Ripley said through tears. “It’s not real.”
Watch Aldo Ripley speak below and hear from Patricia Ripley’s attorney, courtesy of the Herald.
It was not immediately clear if the boy’s father has seen the evidence against his wife.
Patricia Ripley’s attorney, Nelson Rodriguez-Varela, told reporters outside the courtroom that he would not discuss any evidence in the case but would “leave that for another day.”
“There is obviously a great deal of support for her,” Rodriguez-Varela said. “Everybody’s very concerned about her situation.
“By all accounts, she has been an excellent mother, an excellent person, a great family as you can see from the people who are here.”
The defense attorney said he is amassing a legal team to ensure his client’s rights are protected and she has the “opportunity to vindicate her good name.”
Alejandro’s killing has provoked outrage in Florida and across the country, not only because of the circumstances of his death but also because of the nature of Ripley’s initial story to police.
She claimed two black men had run her off the road and abducted her son at knifepoint, authorities said.
“The only voice in his life that he depended on to get through this world was his mom’s,” Miami-Dade police Director Alfredo Ramirez said Friday during a news conference. “To think that voice would be the one that would harm him the most.
“As a parent and as a member of this community, I’m deeply saddened for what happened to that young boy. And then for her to displace blame of her crime on another community, it’s just … well, another crime that was committed. It is very disappointing.”
According to an affidavit in the case, Ripley called 911 shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday and reported that she and Alejandro had been traveling near a Home Depot in West Kendall when her vehicle was sideswiped, causing her to crash.
She claimed the driver of the other car got out and approached her vehicle with a knife, demanding drugs before opening the front driver’s side door and stealing her cellphone and tablet.
“She stated this male then removed her 9-year-old autistic child and fled in an unknown direction,” the affidavit says.
Ripley was taken to the police station for questioning, according to the document.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officials issued an Amber Alert for Alejandro. The alert described Ripley’s alleged assailants as “two unknown black males driving an unknown light blue four-door sedan.”
“One of the abductors may be wearing all black clothing and a black bandanna as a face mask,” the alert said. “He may also have cornrows in his hair.”
At the police station, Ripley gave “conflicting statements” to missing persons detectives, the affidavit states.
The case was transferred to homicide detectives when Alejandro’s body was found, about 11 hours after he was first reported missing and 4 miles from the scene of the alleged abduction.
Ripley was taken from the missing persons bureau to the homicide division for additional questioning. Again, she gave conflicting statements, the affidavit says.
“These statements contradicted the statements of witnesses and the video footage obtained from the area of SW 103rd Avenue and Kendall Drive,” the document states.
The footage described in the affidavit matches the surveillance video obtained by Univision.
The Herald reported that security camera footage from outside the Home Depot near where Ripley claimed Alejandro had been kidnapped showed Ripley sitting alone in her car for 20 minutes before she called 911 to report him missing.
Witnesses also told police they’d seen Ripley with her son near the canal where he was eventually found dead, CBS Miami reported.
When confronted with the evidence, Ripley admitted she had not been robbed, the affidavit says.
“She admitted that she drove to SW 62(nd) Street and SW 138(th) Court at approximately 8:30 p.m. and parked near a canal,” the document states. “She then led the victim to the canal, where he drowned.
“She stated he’s going to be in a better place.”
The CBS affiliate reported that a law enforcement official said Ripley told detectives she’d been thinking about killing her son for a while because the older he got, the more difficult he was to physically control.
Since Alejandro’s death, at least one Miami-area support group for special needs children and their families has seen an uptick in calls from parents whose children are in crisis.
Rabbi Yossi Harlig, co-director of Friendship Circle Miami, told the Herald the boy’s killing has rippled through the community as the nation deals with the deadly COVID-19 outbreak, which had killed more than 98,000 Americans as of Tuesday morning. The social distancing required to help stem the spread of the virus has placed already-struggling families in even more tense situations as they shelter in place and parents homeschool their children.
“One of the concerns is that when someone acts like that, it could trigger other people. You never know,” Harlig told the Herald. “Typical families are feeling overwhelmed. Imagine if you’re raising a child with special needs.”
In a Facebook video posted on the Friendship Circle’s profile, Harlig described the love and caretaking provided by the parents of most special needs children as “something that is like the work of angels.”
With that love, however, comes pain, worry and an often overwhelming challenge. He begged those feeling that challenge to reach out for help.
Friendship Circle Miami, which held a memorial service for Alejandro on Friday and has an online town hall meeting planned for Wednesday night, is implementing a hotline service for overwhelmed parents, the rabbi told the Herald.
The group is also hoping to establish group therapy or child care centers to help families cope.
“One thing that people always tell us is that they feel very isolated and alone, and there’s nowhere to turn to,” Harlig said. “One of the big things that people need is a respite, to have a place where they can drop off their child for a few hours and they can take a break.”
The Lifeline Project will be launched in the days and weeks ahead, Harlig said on the organization’s Facebook page.
“If anyone who cares for a person with special needs feels they are in crisis, they can reach us at 305-234-5654 or email@example.com,” the page states.
In Friday’s news conference outside Fernandez Rundle’s office, the prosecutor said nothing is worse than the death of a child.
“The death of a child is tragic; the killing of a child is horrific,” the prosecutor said.
Watch Friday’s news conference on the case below, courtesy of WPTV in West Palm Beach.
Fernandez Rundle praised the work of Miami-Dade County detectives, who she said combed the community for evidence and witnesses and quickly established the truth of the case.
“The tragic loss of the life of a 9-year-old boy, and the loss, really, of any young life, leaves all of us grieving,” Fernandez Rundle said. “This boy’s senseless, senseless death will stay with all of us, just as his bright smile that shines out from the photographs we’ve all seen.”
Harlig said in a statement that his organization’s leaders are shocked and saddened by Alejandro’s death.
“No child should ever be in this position, especially a child with special needs who cannot call out for help,” the rabbi said. “We all grieve for Alejandro and his family.”
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