Merrill woman charged with attempting to murder 16-year-old autistic son

By Tina L. Scott

MMC Staff

MERRILL – Heather Joy O’Neill, age 53, of rural Merrill (Town of Harding), was taken into custody on Tuesday, June 20 and was formally charged with two felony charges and a misdemeanor in Lincoln County Circuit Court on Thursday, June 22.

O’Neill is charged with first degree intentional attempted homicide and first degree recklessly endangering safety as a result of her overdosing her autistic son, 16, with possibly both prescription and over-the-counter medications on June 20.

She also took an overdose of medications herself in an apparent attempt to take her own life.

In addition, she is charged with an additional misdemeanor count of resisting or obstructing an officer.

O’Neill. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.

Defendant called 911

According to the complaint on file in Lincoln County Circuit Court and the sergeant investigator’s affidavit in support of the search warrant issued for O’Neill’s home, where she lived with and was primary caretaker for her son, the Lincoln County 911 dispatch center received a call from Heather O’Neill at 5:59 p.m. on June 20.

A transcript of the 911 call indicates Heather O’Neill told the 911 operator: “I just gave my son and myself an overdose.”

She identified herself by name.

When asked what they took, she answered “Numerous things.”

In answer to other questions, O’Neill indicated her son was in his bedroom and was breathing and said she was “extremely upset” and, referring to her son, said that “He was very violent this afternoon. … He has tantrums. You’re gonna have to pump his stomach.”

After learning help was being sent, Heather O’Neill hung up despite being asked to stay on the line.

The affidavit said a Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) deputy arrived on scene and was met by Heather and her son outside and that Heather told the deputy her son needed to go to the hospital. Heather then attempted to retreat to the residence but was detained by the deputy and, after brief attempts to evade the deputy, the deputy successfully handcuffed her.

When the deputy asked Heather what she had given her son, “Heather stated she gave him a bunch,” the deputy said.

After Emergency Medical Services (EMS) arrived and “began rendering aid,” they also asked Heather what she gave to her son, and the deputy said Heather told them she “gave him Trazodone, sleeping aids and sedatives.”

According to the deputy’s account, “Heather then stated, ‘I’m tired of living like this’ and that her son had had a temper tantrum today and stated, ‘I’m done.’”

A search warrant of the home revealed four empty bottles for prescription medications prescribed to either Heather or the victim. According to the dates the medications had been filled by the pharmacy, the medication bottles should not yet have been empty.

Additional partial bottles of medications prescribed for either Heather or the victim were also located, along with boxes of numerous other prescription and non-prescription medications, either full or partially used.

A suicide note addressed to Tom, the defendant’s husband, and signed “Your wife & friend, Heather” was also found.

The note said, in part, “I have come to the conclusion that life will not get better from here.” The note said the victim had had a “physically violent temper tantrum” and she could no longer live together with him.

“As soon as he does not get his way, (he) turns aggressive with me. This I can no longer handle,” the note said.

“I can no longer remember why I even wanted a child,” the note said. “He has been such a miserable burden to me and will continue to be so. Never will this end. Never will I be able to live the happy peaceful life that I have needed. I am sorry to have caused you pain …”

In statements to the deputy, Tom O’Neill advised he had called his wife and she didn’t answer, but she called him back approximately 15 to 20 minutes later and stated an ambulance was on the way and that Heather told him, “We took medicine. I gave us medicine.”

The complaint showing probable cause documented numerous statements credited to Heather.

On the one hand, the Complaint said that Heather, when asked by paramedics if the medication overdose had been intentional, had confirmed that it was and stated, “I’m done” and “I’m tired of living like this.”

However, Heather had also initiated the call to 911 and, once paramedics arrived on scene, “Heather would frequently get upset and kept yelling at EMS that they needed to ‘pump victim’s stomach.’”

And, “At one point, Heather got belligerent and told law enforcement something to the effect of if EMS didn’t hurry up, victim would die.”

“Heather would continuously ask ‘What are they waiting for?’ and ‘He needs to go to the hospital right now’ and ‘He needs to get his stomach pumped,’” the Complaint said.

The victim was transported to Aspirus Merrill Hospital by ambulance and Heather was transported by marked squad .

“While at the hospital, Heather stated that she (Heather) gave them (Heather and victim) the pills to die. Heather also said, ‘I gave him some meds and I took the same ones but I cannot tell you how much each of us had” and “I’ve snapped, this is 16 years of his violent tantrums. I can’t take it anymore, he beats me up. I wanted it to be over for both of us.’”

“Heather had additionally made a statement to the effect of that she wished she had not called 911 and just let it happen,” the Complaint said.

While at the hospital, the victim had a seizure, got very blue in the face, and stopped breathing for a short time, then had to be intubated, and staff advised that his condition was deteriorating, according to the Complaint.

The victim’s current condition is not known.

Initial appearance, cash bond set

O’Neill made an initial appearance in Lincoln County Circuit Court via video from the Lincoln County Jail on the afternoon of Thursday, June 22, appearing before Judge Robert Russell, who set O’Neill’s bail at $100,000.00 cash bond.

Additionally, if she makes bail, O’Neill is to have no contact with the victim and to maintain absolute sobriety.

Attorney Kristopher R. Ellis appeared for the State of Wisconsin, and Attorney Jessica Fehrenbach appeared specially for O’Neill.

The Court adjourned the matter to allow O’Neill time to retain an attorney, and her adjourned initial appearance is set for Friday, July 21 at 1:30 p.m.

O’Neill currently remains in custody at the Lincoln County Jail.

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