A New Jersey woman is undergoing a mental evaluation after police officers claim they watched her push a 5-year-old girl in front of an oncoming train

By Chris Harris
January 30, 2017 07:04 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Burlington Police

A 20-year-old New Jersey woman is undergoing a mental evaluation after police officers claim they watched her randomly push a 5-year-old girl in front of an oncoming train on Friday night, PEOPLE confirms.

Autumn Matacchiera was taken into custody immediately after the incident and faces a charge of attempted murder, according to Capt. John Fine of the Burlington, New Jersey, police department.

The child sustained a facial cut and some bruising in the attack, police say.

Fine says officers were summoned to a light rail station in Burlington on Friday on a report of a suspicious woman. As two officers approached Matacchiera, she allegedly grabbed the girl — who was there waiting for a train with her mother and the mother’s boyfriend — and shoved her onto the rails.

The mother’s boyfriend quickly retrieved the child as the officers, using flashlights, signaled for the train to stop, Fine says.

Fine tells PEOPLE a motive remains unclear, but he confirms Matacchiera is a stranger to the victim and that she had had “zero interaction” with the little girl, her mother or the mother’s boyfriend prior to Friday’s incident.

He says Matacchiera remains “under evaluation” at a nearby medical facility. She has yet to appear before a judge to enter a plea to her charge, and court records do not indicate if she has retained an attorney.

Fine says investigators have reason to believe Matacchiera “thought about doing something like this before she acted,” but he stopped short of alleging she was premeditated.

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“There was definitely nothing that led her to victimize this girl,” Fine tells PEOPLE. “During her interviews with police, she alluded to issues she has been having. She may have been in crisis when she did this.”

Messages left for Matacchiera’s parents were not returned Monday. But in an interview with NJ.com, her mother said she has “never hurt anybody” in the past.

“She is not a criminal,” Laura Matacchiera told NJ.com of Autumn. “She has mental health issues. It’s an ongoing problem.”

Laura said her daughter had been “in and out” of mental health institutions for the past six years.

Suspect Blogs About Her Mental Illness

Autumn recently launched a blog about her mental illness. She wrote that she has anxiety, autism and bipolar disorder, and she was writing online to “help other people” facing stigma.

“I have been in the mental health system for many years and seen some things change [but other] things stay the same,” she wrote in a post critical of New Jersey’s programs for those living with mental illness. “I want to help other people who are in it. So, this is why I’m writing this. … Mental illness is not scary when you have the right services.”

According to her Facebook page, Autumn assisted in 2016 with therapeutic horsemanship lessons.

“The stigma has to stop. Even in the system, there is stigma going on,” Autumn wrote. “Ensuring they get the right help early on can help reduce the revolving-door effect that happens when children do not get [the] quality of services they deserve.”