FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A woman was decapitated by her son in the middle of the street, he then killed himself by stepping in front of a Long Island Rail Road train in Farmingdale, police said Wednesday.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, police said the knife-wielding adult son had a history of mental illness.
Patricia Ward, 66, was killed by her son, 35-year-old Derek Ward, inside their apartment, Nassau County Police Detective Lt. John Azzata said.
Azzata said Patricia Ward’s body was then dragged out onto the street where it was found around 8 p.m. Tuesday. Witnesses said she had been decapitated.
White sheets were laid out in front of the building afterward. Some people actually saw the severed head and decapitated body, but at first, many thought the gruesome scene was a Halloween prank.
“It looked fake,” said Farmingdale resident Dale Silverman. “It looked like when you stuff clothes in a bag and put it outside your house.”
Farmingdale residents were still shaken the night after the slaying.
“Basically, I saw the dead body in the street with no head with a sheet over it and a dog running around,” witness Barbara Smalls told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell.
“I literally thought it was a prank,” one witness told WCBS 880’s Mike Xirinachs. “We saw the body on one side and saw the head on the other side. I thought everything was a prank.”
“Body is laying out in the street without a head on it,” Smalls told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “You figure, OK, someone is playing a Halloween prank, but for it to turn out to be a reality — wow.”
About 25 minutes after the slaying, Metropolitan Transportation Authority police got a call that a LIRR train from Penn Station headed to Ronkonkoma struck and killed a man just west of Clinton Street.
The tracks are about 1,000 feet away from where Ward’s body was found. Passengers said they were stuck on the train for hours as police processed the scene.
Passengers on the Ronkonkoma Line were stuck on trains for hours, while at the apartment complex, neighbors found the grisly scene where Derek Ward had dragged his mother through the lobby.
“It’s scary, you know,” one neighbor said. “The woman was innocent.”
“It definitely looked – then it became really real, and everybody was terrified,” said neighbor Marcia Clark.
With no witnesses to the actual crime, and no sounds heard, police on Wednesday were trying to piece together a motive. They said Derek Ward had a criminal history and mental illness — most recently distressed over death of his paternal grandfather.
Too shaken to speak on camera, Patricia Ward’s brother told CBS 2’s Gusoff that Derek Ward had battled mental illness for years. And relatives said just two months before the unthinkable murder-suicide, Derek Ward was discharged from care at a psychiatric hospital.
On Wednesday night, there was concern among mental health experts that horrors like this one reinforce a stigma about mental illness.
“We end up connecting it with violent behavior, and overwhelmingly, people diagnosed with mental illness never display violent behavior,” said Peggy Sicari of the Family and Children’s Association.
Counselors said the tragedy underscores the message that mental illness should not be ignored.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, police had never been called to the apartment Derek Ward shared with his mother.
“Prior to yesterday’s incident, we have no reported domestic incidents between Derek and his mother, Patricia,” Azzata said. “We have no known ties for any terrorism.”
Patricia Ward was a beloved language professor at Farmingdale State College, where students and colleagues were stunned a day later.
“We are all in shock,” said Patrick Calabria, vice president of institutional advancement and enrollment management at Farmingdale State College. “I mean, she was here for 28 years – she was well-known, well-liked, and well-respected. You know, a lot of tears were shed on campus today.”
The school said Ward was an assistant professor of language arts in its Long Island Educational Opportunity Center on campus, which works with high school students who need help preparing for college.
Relatives of Patricia and Derek Ward told CBS2’s Gusoff their feelings of grief were too raw to express a day after the slayings.
Police said Derek Ward had past arrests and had served time for criminal mischief, weapons and drug possession for having 100 Valium pills, but was never charged with a violent crime.
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