AT News
Archived Issue
Originally emailed 17 September 2002

Charges in Death of Cassandra Fall Short

Attachment Therapy is apparently responsible for yet another death. Charges of homicide have been filed against the adoptive parents of 4-year-old Cassandra Killpack, Springville, Utah, after her sudden death last June.

Original reports to
AT News were that the parents of this Afro-American child called 911 after they held her down and forced her to drink Kool-Aid until she passed out. Forensic reports now reveal that the child died of cerebral edema from “water intoxication.”

The parents, Richard and Jennete Killpack, claim they were taught to force water consumption for discipline by the Cascade Center in nearby Orem, an infamous establishment that specializes in abusive Attachment Therapy (AT) practices. To those familiar with AT parenting methods, the Killpack’s statement that they learned this technique at Cascade seems perfectly plausible. Yet, authorities have not charged anyone with the Cascade Center in this death.

Yet Cascade may not be able to run away from the AT parenting techniques that will become obvious in the Killpack case. Cascade is closely associated with Nancy Thomas, the foremost AT “parenting expert” residing across the border in western Colorado. Last spring, Cascade invited legislators to a special presentation by Thomas in an attempt to lobby legislators against a bill outlawing restraint in psychotherapy. Thomas also mobilized a nationwide email campaign to stop the bill.

The AT parenting techniques promoted by Thomas are plainly abusive — advising isolation, withholding food, and excessive work. Thomas teaches, among other things, “paradoxical interventions” to discourage unwanted behavior. For example, if a child sneaks a cookie, AT advises forcing him to eat a whole package of cookies at a single sitting (sometimes adding chili sauce). It is reasonable to suspect that parents trained in AT methods might force huge amounts of fluids on a bed-wetter found sneaking water in the evening.

At the same time as parents learn abusive parenting techniques, they are taught by Attachment Therapists, and through Thomas’s book and videos, that children with “attachment disorder” can’t feel pain like other children. As Utah social worker Alan Misbach observed, “They desensitize the parents.”

Information we have suggests that the Killpacks were not newcomers to AT, as their lawyer suggests. We have a report that sometime back, the Killpacks circulated among their church congregation a letter to allay fears that they were abusing their child, and assure others that they were actually employing legitimate treatment methods. In a similar vein, AT proponents around the country encourage parents to send
apologia to teachers in hopes that it will innoculate those parents against child abuse charges in the future.

It is a bit much to say that the Cascade Center has been exculpated in the Killpack affair. Cassandra’s case is reminiscent of the Krystal Tibbets affair, also in Utah. The adoptive parents of Krystal were trained in AT by Larry Van Bloem at Cascade to perform “compression therapy” at home — with an adult lying on the child’s chest and rubbing a fist into the child’s abdomen. This “therapy” was furthermore a condition of the adoption. Cascade, Van Bloem and state adoption agents all escaped any responsibility in that death by scapegoating the father (who actually had performed the compression). The father served five years in prison, and when he earlier this year testified against AT before a Utah legislative committee, AT lobbyists urged legislators afterwards to ignore the testimony of a “convicted child killer.” As the facts unfold, we see the same thing happening to the Killpack family — they will pay the price alone, while AT and its practitioners continue their vile business as usual.

Recent press coverage:

  • “Bonding Therapy Leads to Death of Four-Year-Old, Parents Charged,” Fox News, 17 Sep 2002.

  • Tad Walch, “Parents blamed in 4-year-old’s death in June; Girl died of water intoxication,” Provo Daily Herald, 17 Sep 2002, p. 1A (followed by public comment).

Caution: links may have aged since this AT News was first emailed.