Since news of an Atlanta mother’s arrest, local supporters have rallied to help the woman who says she was simply “overwhelmed.”
Diana Elliot was booked on child cruelty charges Wednesday after police say she abandoned her special-needs son at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta last week. Elliot and the child were seen Dec. 4 walking around the hospital before she took off in a car, leaving him in the cold.
“The adult female walked outside with the young man,” police Lt. Jeff Baxter told Atlanta station WSB-TV. “She then left the area in a vehicle.”
Authorities said the 14-year-old didn’t have any ID on him and appeared to be malnourished. It was a nurse who spotted him and brought him inside, before social workers took over. Police said they struggled to communicate with the child, who has Down syndrome and a diminished mental capacity.
A tip led authorities to a hotel in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur where Elliot was staying with her three other children. She reportedly told authorities that caring for the kids, along with her disabled son had become too much for her.
She said she dropped him off someplace where she knew he would be safe.
On Thursday, 37-year-old Elliot appeared in court on the child cruelty charge and was shocked to see there were a group of women there to support her. Fellow mothers, many of whom have children with Down Syndrome, arrived at the hearing in a show of solidarity after hearing Elliot’s story.
For one woman, it hit super close to home.
Carla Griffin told local station 11Alive she made the same choice 10 years ago when she left her mentally disabled son at the emergency room when he was just 17. Griffin, who said she made the tough decision after having nowhere else to turn, is now reunited with her son and can only hope the same will happen for Elliot.
The emotional story also sparked a flood of reactions online, where many critics argued that what the struggling mother needed was resources rather than jail time.
“I don’t like that she was charged. Instead of condemning her, help her!!!” one woman commented. “Offer resources to her! She did what she thought was best at that moment. Maybe not the right way, but it was a cry to have someone help with her son.”
“We have people literally getting away with murdering their own children & putting them in the backyard,” another opined. “But you all want to talk about this lady? This is so sad! I can’t imagine being homeless & caring for a special needs child along with 3 other children.”
Others brought up Georgia’s Safe Haven Law, which allows a mother to leave her infant at a designated safe place, including medical and police facilities, without fear of prosecution. The law recently changed in 2017, allowing a child no older than 20 days to be relinquished to an employee/ staffer. It used to be only seven days.
“They always say to drop the child off at a safe place,” someone wrote, adding: “Her situation was done in a way she thought was best for her.”
Toni Oliver, former president of the National Association of Black Social Workers, called Elliot’s case a “very sad situation” and noted how difficult it can be for struggling parents to access resources.
“Who knows what kinds of services she tried accessing in the past,” Oliver told Atlanta Black Star, adding that most times, parents are unaware these resources even exist. “What’s scary is that we don’t know if [that family’s] issues haven’t been addressed.”
The retired social worker, whose work focused on child welfare, adoptions and foster care, named countless organizations that can help parents in Elliot’s situation before they reach a breaking point. They include the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Parent to Parent of Georgia and Each One Teach one.
‘The future looks grim because [Elliot] has so many needs,” Oliver added. “But I’m hopeful because of the support systems in her corner.”
Elliot, who has no prior criminal history, was released on a signature bond Thursday, meaning she’ll remain free until her next court appearance. Her attorney Brian Jarrard, who himself is a father to three adopted sons with special needs, agreed that jail wasn’t the place for her.
Atlanta Black Star reached out to Jarrard’s office for comment and is awaiting a response.
Currently, Elliot’s four children are in the custody of Georgia’s Division of Family and Child Services. The Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta has set up an online fundraiser for her family’s care.
Watch more in the clip below.