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Melvindale — A father’s apparent fatal shooting of his adult son with autism before he turned the gun on himself points up concerns in the special needs community about the stress aging parents face when caring for children as they get older.

Police believe John Richett, 58, killed his autistic son, Nicholas, 20, due to the father’s health problems and concerns about his son’s future well-being.

“Based on a note we found, it appears to be a murder-suicide,” Det. Sgt. Dan Jones said. “The son had severe autism and the father, who had recently retired, had health issues. Apparently, he was concerned about who was going to take care of his son if he died.”

Christine Lerchen, executive director of The Arc of Northwest Wayne County, said what happened in Melvindale is not a first.

“There is no doubt that it is a tremendous responsibility and challenge,” Lerchen said of caring for a child with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In certain cases the parents are struggling with mental health issues as well, she said.

The hardest part for a parent or guardian is navigating the medical and educational system and finding services for their child, Lerchen said.

She said in Michigan after age 26, those with developmental disabilities are treated in the system like an adult.

“After their son or daughter leaves school, they are home,” Lerchen said.

The Arc offers programs such as After I am Gone, which helps parents plan for providing for their child after their death. The Arc also offers the School to Community Transition project, which works to transition young adults from school to the community.

“We help people understand their children have the same rights and opportunities like everyone else, but those parents have to plan,” Lerchen said.

Jones said officers were called to a home in the 3600 block of Caryn Street shortly after 7 a.m. Friday after receiving a call from family members who found the bodies.

“The were both deceased from gunshot wounds,” Jones said. “We’re looking at videos to determine where the firearm was purchased. The father and son were living there alone and were being helped out by family.

“According to his family, Mr. Richett had dedicated himself full time to taking care of his son.”

Jones said family members came to check on the pair when no one answered the phone Friday morning.

John Rowe, a neighbor, says “You could tell he really loved Nicky.” He says John Richett told him that caring for his son “was getting harder and harder.”

TGreenwood@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2023

The Associated Press contributed.

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