Did Massachusetts Fail Alleged Murderer Donald Rudolph?

By Steve Holt | Boston Magazine |

Rudolph and his siblings lived first in Quincy, but after Paula and his father, Donald Sr., split up about 15 years ago, Paula took the kids and moved to Weymouth. Donald Sr. was rarely around the house, and Paula battled addiction issues, Brittany says. And when her children got older, two of them did, too. Rudolph was busted for selling pot and, last October, Caylin was arrested and charged with stealing a friend’s clonazepam, a tranquilizer. Brittany says she was able to avoid some of the madness of the house by spending many nights with friends. But with no dad at home and a troubled mom (who also suffered from multiple sclerosis), her brother became unmanageable. One of his foster parents told the Herald that when Paula said no to Rudolph’s frequent requests for cigarettes, he would wreck the house with a baseball bat, and that, one time, he threw his mother down the stairs.

In 2005, Rudolph began attending the South Shore Educational Collaborative, a Hingham school for children with emotional and behavioral problems. Officials there say they never saw a violent side, that Rudolph was clearly troubled, but also a hard worker who reached out to less-popular kids. “Some students got to the point that they actually looked up to him,” says executive director Henry Perrin. “He did have that softer side, because I think he felt safe in this environment with the people.”

But even as he made progress at school — he’d eventually graduate — his problems at home escalated until, in 2006, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) intervened. A spokesman declined to disclose just what services were provided to the Rudolphs, but the department typically comes in when it suspects children are being abused or neglected. In any case, DCF’s involvement ended after just six months. Two years later, though, the department returned and, after investigating for a full year, determined that Paula was unable to care for her son. Rudolph, at 17, was placed in foster care.

According to the bleak picture Brittany paints, foster care may have only made things worse. In his first foster home, she alleges that Rudolph’s windows were barred and he was locked in his room from the outside. (Citing confidentiality, DCF offered no official response to this claim. For the same reason, Lutheran Social Services, which facilitated Rudolph’s placements, also declined to comment, except to maintain that Rudolph received quality care.) Rudolph began having run-ins with the law, and Perrin says he was sent away to Department of Youth Services facilities “more than once” during his senior year for committing crimes.

Then, in 2010, Rudolph caught a break. He was placed in the care of former New England Patriots cornerback Ronnie Lippett, with whom Rudolph was “at his best,” according to Brittany. Since his playing career ended in 1991, Lippett has taken a number of foster children into his home, handling some of the state’s toughest cases. So Lippett and his wife knew to hide their kitchen knives from Rudolph. Lippett later told the Herald that Rudolph was “heavily medicated” while living in his home.

People who know Rudolph say Lippett seemed to find a way to reach the kid, acting as a kind of father figure. Studies have shown that youths in foster care who have even one strong connection to an adult who is not their parent have better long-term outcomes than those who don’t. “Ron was so good to Donald,” remembers Ryan Connelly, the father of Caylin’s twin girls and a longtime neighbor of the Rudolphs.

But then everything fell apart. Lippett told the press that one morning in July, as he attempted to wake Rudolph up for school, the teen hit him, breaking his jaw. Rudolph was arrested, but Lippett didn’t press charges, instead filing a restraining order against him. Thus ended the only supportive adult relationship the troubled teen had ever really had.

And then something even worse happened to Rudolph: He turned 18.

  • Rachel Fafard

    I think this young man needs to be shown both love and forgiveness. Mental illness is nothing to overlook yet too often it falls through the cracks in our care systems.