The murder of a nine-year-old boy by his sister, 12, has gripped the nation and left people asking: What turns a seemingly ordinary child into a killer?
The Oklahoma girl stabbed her brother with a kitchen knife three times in January in what appeared to be an unprovoked attack before waking up her mother and divulging in floods of tears what she had done.
Doctors have warned that certain drugs or an undiagnosed personality disorder could drive a child to kill — with it now emerging that the girl had just come off an unnamed ADHD medication.
Dr Stuart Fischer, a New York-based emergency medicine expert, warned medications can trigger a ‘perfect storm’ in children that can trigger behavior changes, in the most extreme cases making children homicidal or suicidal.
A family torn apart: Mom April Lyda with her son, Zander, on a GoFundme appeal for the family after his 12-year-old sister was accused of stabbing him to death
Zander Lyda, was stabbed to death in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on January 5
The horrifying case in Oklahoma resurfaced this week with the release of harrowing bodycam footage of the girl’s arrest and her mother, April Lyda’s conversations with police.
The footage shows the girl, who DailyMail.com is not naming, barrelling down the stairs yelling ‘I’m sorry’ several times in between choking sobs.
As she is being placed in handcuffs, the girl sobbed: ‘I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened. It’s some demonic s**t.’
In an interview yesterday, her mother also revealed how the girl had been taking ADHD medications shortly before the attack.
She said her daughter had been put back on the medications after going back to school. But within a month, when she started cutting her arms, doctors decided to take her off them again.
The young girl cut herself again the night before the attack on her brother, Zander, who had been in bed trying to sleep at the time.
The boy died a short time later from his injuries. But in footage released by Tulsa Police, the mother and daughter both believe that the boy is still alive.
Dr Fischer warned DailyMail.com that medications could have contributed to turning the child into a killer.
He said: ‘Someone who goes from needing a medication like this [ADHD drugs] to someone who is homicidal or psychopathic — this has been documented extensively since the drugs were first used many years ago.’
He described it as a ‘perfect storm of medicines that you could probably see some behavior change in the person that could turn ‘dangerous or pathological’ in extreme cases.
Common ADHD medications taken in the US such as Adderall can cause a range of side effects including psychosis, where contact is lost with external reality, mood swings, depression and panic attacks.
Coming off the drugs can cause a range of withdrawal symptoms as well, which addiction center the Orlando Recovery Center says includes psychosis, paranoia and hallucinations.
He also said ADHD medication combined with other drugs, like asthma drugs, can have unusual interactions.
Psychiatric medications meant to treat depression and anxiety, such as Zoloft and Prozac, called SSRIs, can sometimes cause suicidal thoughts as well as hallucinations and homicidal ideation.
Prednisone, a steroid that relieves lung inflammation which helps people with severe asthma when they experience an attack, can also cause mood swings, psychosis, and mania.
It has not been revealed whether the 12-year-old girl had recently used any other medications despite those for ADHD.
Ms Lyda claimed that her daughter started having behavior issues when ‘she was put back on a medication she was off for over a year’.
At the same time, police reported that the young girl had a history of self-harming.
Dr Fischer said: ‘People being tapered off prednisone can become very depressed. It has a psychological side effect to it. This is not alternative medicine and it’s not meant to be treated for psychiatric issues.
‘This is complicated chemistry, what [the medicine] is doing. It cannot have only good effects. It’s inconceivable that a medicine as important as asthma medicine only has a positive effect.’
Recently-released police bodycam footage after the attack begins with the girl running downstairs as she yells, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry’
The handcuffed girl then leads police to the knife she supposedly used to stab her brother, which she had thrown out of a window
In a 2003 case study published in the Canadian Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Review, researchers from Newfoundland, Canada reported on an eight-year-old boy who was taking corticosteroids for his asthma and started experiencing hallucinations and delusions.
These included visual disturbances such as seeing women dancing in grass skirts and claiming that ‘ladies’ noses looked weird’.
The young boy also began feeling very suicidal and said he should be serving the devil.
Eventually, the family doctor took the boy off the corticosteroids and his delusions and paranoia dissipated.
Markell Noah, 12, was found shot dead at a house in Jackson, Mississippi. He had got into a fight with another boy over a gun, it was claimed, and during the fight the gun went off
In a previous case of a child killer, a 12-year-old boy was shot dead at an abandoned house in Jackson, Mississippi, after it was claimed that he had got into a fight with another boy over a gun. Witnesses said that during the scuffle, the gun went off.
Dr Fischer also suggested that a personality disorder, that was previously hidden, could drive a child to suddenly become a killer.
He said: ‘Something has triggered [the mood change]. In this case, it could be that the prednisone is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
‘Someone who has an underlying disorder, this could put them over the edge.’
Asked about what disorder this could be, he said: ‘It could be a paranoia.
‘A paranoia usually refers to when there is no present danger, but someone who is perceiving a danger that is not really there.’
Paranoias can leave someone with a heightened sense of danger, even if no danger is present, which can lead to irrational acts of violence.
Dr Fischer added: ‘I want to make it clear that it could also be other factors. They could have meningitis, for example… this may give rise to very erratic behavior.’
‘Millions, if not billions, of kids have grown up without this medicine in the course of human history.
‘This is a case that may make us think about the power unleashed by these medicines and, secondly, how to study them.’
Meningitis is an inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord, which can affect the functioning of the organ.
Almost as soon as the stabbing was committed, the 12-year-old appeared remorseful, yelling ‘I’m so sorry’, ‘I don’t know what happened,’ and ‘God, please help me. What the f***. Please. F*** please.’
Ms Lyda, who rushed to the hospital with her injured son while her daughter was detained by police, said she had been asleep upstairs when the attack occurred.
Pictured: The Family Center for Juvenile Justice in Tulsa, where the 12-year-old girl was being held after the fatal stabbing in January
There are also religious overtones in the mother’s written explanation which included lines like ‘they were raised as God-fearing children’ and ‘As any 12-year-old child who was not allowed to cuss or watch scary evil movies.’
This has led many online observers to speculate that Ms Lyda’s religious beliefs were overbearing on the 12-year-old girl, who may have been rebelling.
While not confirmed that the girl had been taking prednisone, the drug is one that can cause notable mood swings when stopped and started abruptly.
The girl is in juvenile custody with the Tulsa Police Child Crisis Unit in charge of the investigation. She is being held at the Family Center for Juvenile Justice, according to Tulsa Police.
This is the second homicide in the city of Tulsa this year, the Tulsa Police Department Child Crisis Unit said.
Tulsa Police Department Chief Franklin tweeted: ‘All homicides are tragic, but the 2nd homicide of 2023 in Tulsa shows a definitive societal problem. The question is, how does society address a child killing another child?’
Ms Lyda has been raising money on GoFundMe in order to afford to move. She said her daughter was a ‘normal’ teenager’ who never even ‘yelled’ at her until she went back on an unspecified medication that she’d stopped taking for a year.
‘They were good kids… they were raised as God-fearing children and never had behavioral issues until she was put back on a medication she was off for over a year,’ she said.
A motive has not been made public, but the young girl is receiving unspecified health treatment for an undisclosed amount of time.