BEASON — Home and school were places Dillen Constant struggled but the wrestling mat offered him the chance to succeed and inspire others.
Dillen was 14 on Sept. 21, 2009, when he took more than 50 blows to the head with a tire iron — the same weapon used to kill his mother, Ruth Gee, stepfather, Rick Gee, siblings Justina Constant, 16, and Austin Gee, 11, and severely injure his sister Tabitha, who was 3 at the time.
In the trial of Chris Harris — the man convicted last week of murder in the deaths of the Beason family — a doctor and several teachers testified about the behavioral challenges Dillen faced in the two years before his death and how the lack of psychiatric services may have prolonged his getting better.
Prosecutors called Hopedale physician Dr. Phillip Rossi as part of their attack on Chris Harris’ claim that he interrupted the youth killing his family. Rossi treated Dillen in 2007 for Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and referred the boy to a psychiatrist because medications were not fully addressing symptoms. The symptoms of the attention-related conditions include inattention to tasks, impulsiveness and restlessness.
The family’s lack of insurance and meager financial resources were likely behind the fact that the child did not make it to a psychiatrist, said Rossi.
“It can be extremely difficult to get mental health services sometimes for that group of folks,” the doctor told the jury.
Indigent McLean County families face similar challenges when looking for psychiatric help for the youngest, poorest and sickest.
“There are no psychiatrists in McLean County who work with uninsured children under age 12,” said Stephanie Barisch, coordinator of the program at the Center for Youth and Family Services in Bloomington.
Since a child psychiatrist left the McLean County Center for Human Services several years ago, the youngest patients seen by two psychiatrists employed at the center are adolescents. CHS Executive Director Tom Barr said CHS hopes the advanced nurse practitioner they are trying to recruit will be qualified to handle such cases.
In the meantime, Barisch works with a psychiatrist from Champaign and local pediatricians to help meet the needs of 400 children who need psychiatric services. A crisis hotline handles about 50 calls monthly related to children, she said.
McLean County foster children travel to Springfield to meet with a state-contracted psychiatrist. “It’s difficult to find a child psychiatrist because there is a shortage. And even if you can find one, the more difficult part is funding. Many kids don’t have coverage and medications can be very expensive,” said Barisch.
In Dillen Constant’s case, Rossi said money also may have been behind a discontinuance of the boy’s medications.
Alex Dawson, the wrestling coach who helped the first-year wrestler during the 2008 season, remembered a devoted athlete.
“What I noticed most was that wrestling was a sport he enjoyed. He was a good learner and he wanted to participate,” said Dawson.
Lincoln special education teacher Lisa Howard recalled Dillen’s frustration when he could not grasp material. “He would occasionally push a book off his desk or push his binder on the floor,” she said.
There was testimony that Dillen endured difficult times at home — his window was nailed shut after he ran away — and there was little support with homework. The passing grades recorded in the brief time he was in school before his death reflected more positive times, according to teachers.