N.Y. Parents Accused of Murdering Teen Son with Special Needs — Then Burning Their House Down to Cover It Up
A New York couple has been indicted for allegedly murdering their teenage son, who authorities said was deaf and had special needs, and then setting fire to their home to cover up the crime.
Ernest F. Franklin II, 35, and his 33-year-old wife, Heather Franklin, of Guilford, New York, were indicted Friday on charges of second-degree murder in the death of their adopted son, 16-year-old Jeffrey Franklin, according to the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office in New York.
Ernest, an Iraq War veteran, and his wife, a stay-at-home mom, were also charged with third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence.
They will be arraigned on their indictments in Chenango County Court at a later date, according to the sheriff’s office.
The arrests came after the investigation of a fire on March 1 at the family’s rural 1,300-square-foot home in Guilford, about an hour outside Syracuse, New York.
Investigators believe the fire was set to cover up Jeffrey’s killing, as an autopsy determined he died before the blaze, according to the sheriff’s office.
Authorities have not said how or when he was killed.
His parents wed in 2011 and adopted him six or seven years ago, the sheriff’s office said. Heather, according to her Facebook page, is pregnant.
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Jeffrey’s death and his parents’ arrest have left the usually quiet community shaken.
“People are asking themselves, ‘How could this happen?’ ” Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting Jr. tells PEOPLE.
“Certainly for the public here, it’s a mix of anger and frustration and disappointment,” he says.
The Franklins were arrested on Wednesday. They were initially arraigned at the Town of Guilford Court on Thursday, where they entered a plea of not guilty to the same crimes on which they were then indicted, according to the sheriff’s office.
The investigation is ongoing and further charges may be filed, authorities said.
After their arrest, Ernest and Heather were taken to the Chenango County Jail, where they are being held without bail.
Ernest’s attorney did not have a comment when reached by PEOPLE on Friday. Heather’s attorney said, in an email, that he “will have plenty to say when the time is right. ”
‘Still Feeling Lost’
On Sunday, days before Heather was arrested, she updated friends and family on her Facebook page about how much she missed her son, whom she called JR.
“I am still feeling lost without JR to take care of,” she wrote.
She also let people know that she and her husband had added their “needs” and “wants” to the CheckedTwice.com Family Gift Registry, because they lost everything in the fire.
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A GoFundMe set up shortly after the fire to help the parents with expenses raised more than $11,000, WBNG reports. The page has been taken down.
In a statement, GoFundMe said it would refund donors: “It’s important to remember that the platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means that in the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement or a user finds campaigns are misused, donors will get their money back.”
Heather wrote that she and her husband were staying with friends but had found a new home and would be moving in “once we have a bed (being donated by metro mattress!) and food in the house”
“Just know we are getting into this home due to all the financial support we have received (and know our insurance only protected the lender, not us),” she continued.
Deputies who responded to a 911 call about 1:15 a.m. on March 1 found the Franklin house completely engulfed in flames, with Jeffrey inside and unable to escape the fire, according to the sheriff’s office.
At the time, authorities said the cause of the fire appeared to be a wood stove, which was the residence’s main heating source.
As authorities continue to search for answers, the community is still reeling from the teen’s death.
“People are wondering how anybody could do something so brutal to a developmentally disabled and handicapped 16-year-old boy,” Cutting tells PEOPLE.
“There are a lot of people who would have taken him. There are organizations that would have taken care of him. Why resort to that?” he says.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy.”