Salt Lake City diocese in prayer after police shooting of boy with autism

linden cameron kutv Linden Cameron. | KUTV News

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said it is praying for Linden Cameron, a 13-year-old boy who was seriously injured and hospitalized after he was shot by a police officer Friday night.

"We offer our prayers for Linden Cameron and his family. Whatever the results of the ongoing investigations, we are heartbroken to see a child caught in our culture of gun violence," the Salt Lake City diocese said in a statement Wednesday.

Cameron has Asperger syndrome, also called autism spectrum disorder, and had a mental health crisis on Friday, Sept. 4, according to his mother, Golda Barton. Barton called 911 on Friday, hoping that emergency personnel could help stabilize her son and take him to a hospital.

But a Salt Lake City Police Officer shot Cameron, reportedly multiple times, after he ran from officers. Police said they had received reports that Cameron had been "making threats to some folks with a weapon."

But Barton says her son was unarmed, that she had told police he would be unarmed, and police did not find a weapon at the scene of the shooting.

"He's a small child. Why didn't you just tackle him?" Barton asked police during an interview with KUTV News on Sunday. "He's a baby. He has mental issues."

In its statement, the Salt Lake City diocese said it "supports and encourages continued discussions with law enforcement about the use of force and legislative action to ensure that the dignity and sanctity of all life is protected throughout our criminal justice system."

The shooting is now under investigation, and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said this weekend that the investigation will be handled "swiftly and transparently."

A person with autism spectrum disorders is likely to have difficulties during encounters with police, experts say, because some behaviors typical in persons with autism, such as avoiding eye contact or moving hands rapidly, can be interpreted as a threat if police lack specific training or experience related to autism.

The shooting comes in the wake of numerous high-profile police shootings in recent months, along with the March death of Daniel Prude, a man who died after Rochester, NY, police held him to the ground for several minutes during a psychotic episode. Body camera footage of that incident was published last week, after which Rochester's Bishop Salvatore Matano said that "the tragic death of Mr. Daniel Prude and the visible pain of his family cause a deep sorrow in the hearts of all."

Some criminal justice reform activists have called for non-police crisis teams to respond to mental health emergencies, rather than police, or for additional police training for responding to people in mental health crises.

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