Medic who carried abused boy out of house describes impact it had on his life
His response to a severely abused 11-year-old was the most extreme medical case he's seen, and the most successful recovery of his career
By Jen McCoy
Portage Daily Register
PORTAGE, Wis. — When Ross Williams carried Andrew down the stairs and into the sunlight, there was only one question the boy wanted to know.
‘Are you taking me to jail?’ Andrew said.
“And that was the hardest thing to hear, my heart sunk and I said, ‘No, no, no, we’re getting you taken care of,’” Williams said.
The call about a burned child on June 14, 2007, was the most extreme medical case and in the same breath the most successful recovery in his career, said Williams, the paramedic who carried Andrew down the stairs.
“We had no idea what we were walking into. No words could ever describe how bad that was,” Williams said.
The 34-year-old is now a paramedic at Fitchrona EMS, but in 2007 Williams was on scene at 304 W. Oneida St. in Portage with Divine Savior EMS crew Kari Moore and Jim McClyman.
Officers approached the first responders to inform them that it was a child abuse case.
From a visual assessment of Andrew huddled in the narrow closet, Williams knew the 11-year-old had severe burns and very serious medical issues. Upon seeing how dire Andrew’s chances of survival were the team kept their composure and a calm tone of voice so not to alarm him.
“I’ve never seen anyone still alive and I’ve never seen burn injuries that severe and I’ve never seen anyone in that serious condition still be fighting (for survival) and be conscious and talking,” Williams said.
Andrew was leaning against the closet wall with his head bowed. Williams was taken aback by the bright blue area on the top of Andrew’s head that exposed his skull bone.
“They burned his scalp off and tried to even make it even worse. It was blue, it was all blue and we weren’t sure what it was from, but the people who were abusing him did something to that burn and that was the first most striking thing I noticed,” Williams said.
As a result of the serial torture, there was a distinct smell of burned skin combined with deadly infections of sepsis, gangrene and pneumonia. Andrew’s clothing was stuck to his frail body from the wounds and most likely he had the same clothes on for three months, Williams said.
Connecting with Andrew was the only way to get him coaxed from the closet and toward medical help.
“In the medical field you’re given all these wonderful tools where you can try to fix everything, and Kari and Jim we all just had to step back and use our TLC to deal with this call because the condition he was in was terrible,” Williams said.
The crew worked together to make Andrew more comfortable, give him his dignity and gain trust.
“I’m 6-foot-2 and I know I come across pretty intimidating, but one thing you can always do is make eye-level contact with someone. I was able to get down on my knees and make eye contact with him and gain trust through conversation, and I think that’s what built the trust up. I had him come to me a couple steps and then I put him in the burn sheet,” Williams said.
McClyman asked if Williams needed assistance carrying Andrew down the stairs. However, with Andrew weighing about 55 pounds, it only took one arm for Williams to carry him. Andrew was hungry and wanted to eat a cheeseburger, which was the one easy fix that day, Williams said.
Andrew remembers Ross by name seven years later.
“That’s an honor,” Williams said. “From the moment he was discovered and the minute we got him out of that hell hole, as I call it, it was the beginning of a new beginning.”
McClyman drove the ambulance while Moore and Williams attended to his wounds in better light. It was then that the true enormity of his injuries was slowly revealed.
“We knew every time we cut something off (his clothes) something else would be horrific, just horrific and I know Kari and myself had a few tears in our eyes,” Williams said.
Williams clocked out of work early that day to attend an event, but for some reason he lingered and jumped on the ambulance when he heard the call about Andrew. There’s a reason Williams didn’t leave, he said, and a reason that one of the worst abuse cases in Wisconsin occurred in Portage.
“Everyone in small town Wisconsin came together to make a difference in one person’s life, and I think we all did one hell of a job that day,” Williams said. “Being in that terrible condition for that amount of time he didn’t have that much longer to live, and it was a miracle that day that everything fell into place because he didn’t have much more time.”
The district attorney characterized Andrew as looking like a Holocaust victim and Williams said he looked “worse, absolutely worse.” How the child survived on a pittance of rice and ritualistic beatings goes beyond science.
“I think there has to be some type of will in him to say, ‘I was going to survive’ or he wanted to survive because I think if he didn’t want to survive that he would’ve died. And, lasting three months in a closet if not longer and being withheld food and water he wanted to survive. I think that’s a true description of his will. I think he put it in his mind even at that young of an age that he was going to get out of there,” Williams said.
Colleagues and friends who worked with Andrew over the years think about him every day, Williams said, and wonder about his life now. When an ambulance door closes it is rare to ever know the outcome of the patient, he said, and to find out that Andrew is thriving will feed their souls indefinitely.
Being contacted by the Daily Register about Andrew shook him a bit, Williams said, and sometimes coming to Portage is a trigger for him.
“All those memories came flooding back and it’s still emotional. Not many people will experience what the people involved that day ever will,” he said. “The best thing we ever did the day after that call was get back in the ambulance and start operating again.”
When Williams heard that Andrew liked superheroes and that his code name for himself would be “Man of Steel,” it made perfect sense to the paramedic.
“Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely; There’s nothing better than making a comeback like that and being invincible to everything because he pretty much was,” Williams said.
Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey
With 13 years as the Portage Police Chief and 38 years as an officer under his belt, the level of torture Ken Manthey saw was beyond his experience.
“This is probably one of the most horrific crimes that I’ve seen. Definitely the most horrific child abuse I’ve seen,” he said.
Prior to a packed press conference that day, Manthey looked at a photograph of Andrew, which he said was not the best timing. The extreme brutality was in his mind while he fielded questions, visibly moved by the gravity of the case.
Emotional correspondence and financial help poured in from around the country and the world, Manthey said, to support Andrew but also countless words of comfort to the department.
“I think you have consolation in the fact that we collectively saved Andrew’s life and the people who did this to him have their consequences and won’t be able to do this to another child,” he said.
Only a couple of weeks ago, a resident asked Manthey about Andrew’s condition.
“I was pleased to tell them that he had graduated high school and is now an adult. I think it’s important for the community to get an update on this terrible event,” he said.
Whatever Andrew’s goals are, Manthey said he hopes they’re achieved.
“My other hope would be, if he felt led to it, to help other child abuse victims,” Manthey said.