Creswell, Public Safety & Health

Boy, 13, guilty of murder

A Creswell preteen pleaded guilty last week to murdering a 92-year-old woman on Creswood Drive earlier this year. The boy killed Erma (Sapp) Burnell, of Creswell, in her home on Jan. 7.
His name was mentioned in court, but The Chronicle generally does not publish names of juveniles under prosecution. As such, he will be referred to as ”Norman,” and his mother, who asked her name be withheld, as ”Nancy.”
She first heard her son on July 23 admit to killing the elderly blind woman in her home.
”I did not know the truth until then,” she said. ”And I still couldn’t believe it. You think you know your own kid. I would have never in a million years thought he was capable of this.”
Norman, who turned 13 in July, will remain in Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) custody for an undetermined amount of time, possibly until the age of 25, said Sarah Evans, OYA deputy communications manager.
The longevity of his sentence depends upon progress made in treatment, but ”based on the seriousness of the crime and his age, his time and treatment will be pretty considerable,” Evans said.
According to OYA’s most recent demographic information from January 2019, there are only 11 kids lodged at OYA who are 12-13 years old – putting Norman in the 1-percentile of the facility’s population based upon age.

Norman is a troubled child – diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder, his mother said. She said she has been ”struggling for seven years with the system,” to get her son the help he needs.
The leading social characteristics of boys lodged at OYA include a diagnosed mental health disorder, 77%; having parents who have used alcohol and drugs, 65%; substance abuse or dependence, 62%; and diagnosed Conduct Disorder, 50%.
Norman has had serious behavioral issues since he was four years old, Nancy said, and he’s been in and out of mental health services ever since. She recalls Norman biting the face of another child in the Head Start program at a young age because the child came too close to his toy.
Norman also struggles to find his identity as an African American child in a largely white community, county and state.
”He doesn’t have any African American males around him; he doesn’t know how to identify as one,” except for on YouTube videos and in rap music, which she discouraged, she said.
He saw a therapist about three times a week. Norman has gone through behavioral programs – ones he seemingly did fine in and graduated from. But when he came back home, his mom said he would revert to his troubled state.
Nancy said her son has a ”Jekyll-and-Hyde personality;” he would be sweet and complaint and then would switch and become ”violent” and out of control. Norman ”has a very black-and-white sense of reality,” Nancy said. ”Everything has to be fair, and if it’s not, he will fight the world.”

Norman previously attended Willamette Leadership Academy, and after a few months, Nancy thought Norman could be turning over a new leaf.
”We were starting to see results from (Norman) being there after a while,” Nancy recalled. ”The dynamic at home shifted; we started having a relationship with each other again and he became more compliant.” In the midst of Norman’s progress at the academy, however, he was expelled for sexual misconduct.
After that, his options for schooling became limited.
She said the state systems have failed her son, that, in spite of desperate pleas for help from the schools, from the police, from the health-care systems were ”swept under the rug.”
Norman was not in school for two months after his expulsion. His mom and the Creswell School District worked to find a suitable program for his special education needs, but she did not agree with the program chosen for her son. She said it was ultimately decided that Norman would be in school for four hours a day, five days a week, doing online classes in an isolated room. The Chronicle’s attempts to contact school officials were unsuccessful by press time.
He was back in school only three days in Creswell before he was arrested for murder.

Norman is no stranger to the Creswell deputies. There is a stack of 25-plus police reports documenting the child as a ”habitual runaway.”
Nancy said she installed alarms for the windows, locks for the door and even locked away his shoes so that he could not run off. But Norman would disable the alarms, find ways to unlock the doors, rip through screens and sneak sneakers under his bed.
”Deputies were at my house pretty much every week,” she said. He’d run away for two or three days at a time, couchsurfing at friends’ houses and sleeping in abandoned houses.
Norman would break into vacant houses being built on Creswood Drive and sleep there. ”He had little hidey-holes where he had blankets, snacks and soda there,” Nancy said.
Norman’s runaways became so frequent that – a week before the murder – Nancy said police told her to not report him unless he was missing for 24 hours.
Lane County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Scott Denham refutes this. He said she was never given a timeframe by police on how long to wait before reporting her son as a missing person; however, she was asked to do her ”due diligence” to try to locate him before filing a report.
”There have been many times I have been driving around 1:30 a.m., driving around looking for him, finding him, chasing him,” Nancy said.
Denham said each missing person call means that deputies would have to create five-page reports. Nancy was calling police frequently, Denham said, and Norman would typically show up back home a few hours hours later.

The day of the murder ”was the first time I didn’t call and didn’t go looking for him,” she said. ”I got to the point where I couldn’t do anything, I don’t have any help.”
Norman took off that night and was wandering around Creswood Drive. A quiet neighborhood, no one stirred in the Burnell house. There was no car in the driveway. All the lights were out. Later, Norman told his mom that he thought nobody was home.
Just after noon on a cold January day, Norman broke into Burnell’s home on the 200 block of Creswood Drive and tragedy struck. The rest of the details are concealed in court files, but police were called to the scene shortly after the crime. Burnell was pronounced dead shortly after medics arrived on scene. Three days later, Norman was arrested on Jan. 10 on first-degree murder and burglary charges.
Nancy said Norman doesn’t like to talk about what transpired that night. He feels ashamed and keeps his head down when the subject is brought up. He’s admitted to it, and he knows he’s done wrong, she said.
She said he’s looking forward to the specialized program he will be enrolled in at OYA to help with his emotional imbalances.
”That’s the approach we’re taking,” she said, ”this is an opportunity to get yourself healthy and to be somebody. He is looking forward to doing well, and won’t be allowed out until he is.”



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