Karyn Kay did not call 911 because she feared her son, but because she feared for him.
“Caller states male 19 having a seizure,” the emergency operator entered in the computer at 9:26:18 a.m.
Kay’s teenage son was suffering another epileptic seizure and she was worried that he might hurt himself. He had once cut his arm on a broken cup while flailing during a seizure, and since then she had always held him in her arms until it passed. They had a history of hugs, not violence.
Then, 58 seconds into this 911 call on the morning of April 10, everything suddenly changed. All the untiring love and patience and perseverance this 63-year-old single mother had put into successfully raising a decent and well-meaning son in midtown Manhattan on a teacher’s salary was turned to horror by a flash of neural electricity beyond anybody’s control.
9:27:16 am: “Male possibly attacking his mom coming out of seizure.”
The phone could be heard clattering to the floor.
9:27:56 am: “Hearing mom saying [son] coming after her…screaming and thrashing in background.”
9:28:52 am: “Just have open line of male grunting and hitting something. Do not hear the elderly female anymore.”
When the police arrived, at the Manhattan apartment, they found the son spattered with blood and Kay sprawled in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. There seemed no way anyone could be accidentally beaten to death, and Henry Wachtel was charged with murder.
But what emerges from the emergency operator’s summary, court records, and interviews with people who knew the family is not the story of another troubled teen terrorizing his mother until he finally exploded into bloodiest murder.
Instead, medical experts who reviewed the emergency operators’ summary at the request of The Daily Beast suggest that the 911 call is in fact exculpatory evidence, documenting changes in Henry’s mental state so rapid they preclude conscious intent. Wachtel, they said, had almost certainly suffered a grand mal seizure, in which victims are usually rendered unconscious for one to five minutes and then, in the words of Dr. Derek Chong of Columbia University, “typically awaken disoriented, unsure where they are, what time it is, and sometimes even who they are.”
Chong emphasizes that it is exceedingly rare for epilepsy to result in directed violence of any kind and that extreme post-seizure agitation is unusual. But he allows that Wachtel’s agitation may have been heightened by the medications he was taking. And Chong notes that most specialists have witnessed situations where “the brain’s motor system regains full functionality, but the patients remain completely disoriented, and agitated, appearing as though they are attempting to flee at all costs. It may take several people to prevent them from leaving the room and violence can escalate.”