Madison County Coroner Craig Whisenant confirmed Monday the cause of death of eight-year-old Randle Barrow and his mother, 42-year-old Delicia Barrow.
Randle's death was ruled a homicide by drowning. Delicia's death was ruled suicide by smoke inhalation.
Deputies found Randle's body in the Tennessee River in the Honeycomb area of Marshall County, early Sunday morning. Huntsville police started searching for the autistic child after a fire at his home.
Police responded to 4900 Alburta Road in Huntsville to check on the welfare of the child after he didn't show up to school for two days. Upon arrival, officers noticed smoke coming from the roof of the house. Firefighters were able to put the fire out. Police found Delicia Barrow, inside the residence. She was pronounced dead after being taken to the hospital.
Police said they couldn't find Randle inside the house and began a search for the missing child on Saturday.
In a statement Sunday night, the Marshall County Sheriff's Department said they received a tip earlier in the day from Huntsville Police that a note had been found inside the home with information on the whereabouts of Randle.
The news of both deaths came as a complete shock to those who knew them. Elizabeth Quarles, Randle's former teacher, said they "Never, never saw it coming. When we heard that he was missing, our initial reaction was to meet and let's go find him. Until we got more details, we thought he had ran."
Randle's behavioral therapist, Madison Brooks, also described the child in glowing terms.
"Randle made every kid in his classroom smile constantly. He was hilarious; the happiest kid. He would do anything for anybody. If he saw a child upset, he cried for that child. He understood," said Brooks.
Brooks and Quarles said Randle was making strides in the world. He was high-functioning, able to communicate and to do things for himself. As for his mother, they didn't know much about her, but said the two were very close.
They said they want the boy to be remembered for more than his condition. They want his memory to be one of fun, laughter and jokes, because that, they said, was Randle.
Randle attended the Riley Center, a school where his needs as an autistic child could be met. The administration released a statement which says in part, "We are shocked and deeply saddened by this loss. Randle was a joy every day he was with us. He was always smiling, giggling and greeting those around him. Randle will be missed and our hearts go out to his family."
Investigators said Delicia drove Randle to Marshall County, drowned her son in the river, and then came back home to take her own life.
A witness came forward Monday and told investigators she spoke with the mother in Marshall County. She said the woman came to her home and asked for food and that her car was stuck down the road. She was covered and mud and was wet.
By all accounts, Barrow was a single mother and recently asked a family friend to take temporary custody of Randle because of health issues. A clinical psychologist said this could have been an indication of something more.
"We do know generally, suicides are a result of mental illness in a person. Often times after a long period of suffering and that combined with a really bad day can sometimes generate a suicide," said Kenneth Sullivan.
Teachers are grappling with how to explain the situation to the children in Randle's school.
"I don't know that you can explain it to them in a way that is healthy for them. I think they need to know that he's not with us but he's in a wonderful place, allow them to mourn and cherish his memory. I think they need to know that he's not coming back but I don't think they need to know the details," said Quarles.
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