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31 Shocks Later

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Eventually the workers figured out the call was a hoax—but not before they shocked one boy 29 times and the other 77 times. Prosecutors later accused Israel of ordering his staff to destroy that night’s footage. Israel insisted he thought the investigation was complete, but as part of a deal with prosecutors, he agreed to step down. He never admitted any guilt, and after five years probation, the charges against him will be dismissed.

The Rotenberg Center is now run by his longtime assistant executive director. The school refused to answer any questions for this story. (This account is largely based on pretrial depositions, court records, and trial testimony.) Today, the Rotenberg Center has some 230 residents, and a little more than one third are approved to receive electric shocks—down from one half a few years ago. Most likely, the percent of students who receive shocks will continue to drop. Since 2009, the New York State Board of Regents has banned the use of the shock device on any new students from New York, and last fall Massachusetts prohibited the use of shocks for all new students.

In the meantime, the school continues to advertise for new employees. A recent posting on Craigslist describes an opening for a job with “excellent” benefits in “a happy, motivated environment” at a “fast-growing” program.

Andre McCollins never returned to the Rotenberg Center. He spent 37 days in the hospital—in Boston, then back in New York—before going home. In the weeks after the incident, he seemed terrified, his mother recalls, constantly telling her, “Be careful! Be careful!” She says she had to hide any device that resembled a shock activator—the TV remote, her cell phone—in case he spotted it and started to panic. And he no longer slept through the night; instead, she says, he would stay awake in the dark and call out her name.

Today Andre is 27 years old and lives in a residence in Queens. He comes home most weekends, but the days when they’d dash off to the park together, Andre on his Rollerblades, are no longer. “No, no,” he says. “I might fall.” Now he just wants to stay indoors and watch movies in the living room, his chair rolled up close to the screen. He didn’t attend the trial, and his mother didn’t talk to him about it; she didn’t want to traumatize him. The trial lasted two weeks, ending in the middle of jury deliberations, when the lawyers made a last-minute, confidential settlement deal. Afterward, an attorney for the Rotenberg Center continued to insist the defendants had done nothing wrong. With the settlement in hand, Cheryl is now searching for a new residence for Andre.

After fighting for nearly a decade to make Andre’s video public, Cheryl found herself forced to watch it day after day as she sat through the trial. Each time Andre received an electric shock, her shoulders would rise to her ears, her whole body shuddering. To get through these moments, she’d tell herself, “If Andre had to do this for seven hours, you can sit here and suffer yourself.” At times she felt as if she, too, were being punished—for sending him to this school in the first place. Guilt overwhelmed her, and in her mind she’d say to him, over and over, “Andre, I’m sorry. I apologize. I didn’t know.”


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