Born of a drug-addicted mother, Anthony Norman became the center of love in the family
■ Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
Anthony Norman was born to a drug-addicted mother who, following his birth, went to live in a halfway house that would accommodate both her and her child. Within two months, Anthony’s mom returned to her old way of life and abandoned Anthony in a hotel room.
The story of Anthony’s life—and eventual death—was recounted for The Valley Chronicle by Anthony’s grandfather, Jerry Norman, who, with his wife, Bonnie, raised the child from an infant. Anthony was just 21 when he died at a Murrieta hospital following a violent altercation with two Murrieta homeowners, one of whom happened to be a Hemet police officer. The incident early Christmas morning 2012 is now the subject of a wrongful death suit naming Michael Darragh and Hemet Deputy Police Chief Rob Webb as respondents. Neither has been charged with any crime, but the city of Hemet is paying for Webb’s legal defense. The cost to Hemet taxpayers has already exceeded $357,000, and the wrongful death trial hasn’t even begun. It’s scheduled to go before a jury this summer.
Notified that his grandson had been abandoned, Jerry Norman picked up young Anthony from the hotel where his mother had left him and brought the baby home. Anthony’s mother would later give birth to two more children, a brother and sister of Anthony. She abandoned both of them as well, says the elder Norman.
“I adopted Anthony’s brother and sister and would have also adopted Anthony, but since he was born in Orange County and we moved over to Riverside County, it created some problems. However I did manage to adopt Anthony’s siblings,” said Norman.
According to Norman, “Riverside County, seeing that we took in Anthony’s siblings, took us under the court’s wing, and, more or less, let us keep him without further formalities.”
As a toddler, Anthony appeared to develop as a normal boy with a normal boy’s interests and activities. When he was three years old, however, he got into the backyard through a garage door and was found floating face down in the family pool. He wasn’t breathing.
“It was Christmas morning,” says Norman. “We gave him CPR. An ambulance took him to the hospital where he was kept under observation. His doctors concluded that there was probably no brain damage, and he came home.”
Once Anthony started school, his grandparents were advised that there appeared to be something amiss in Anthony’s makeup. “Nobody knew if it was caused by being a drug-baby or the near drowning,” says Norman. “He seemed normal to us, and we treasured him as we would our own son.”
Anthony became the center of love in the family. “He always seemed anxious to please,” says Norman. “But as he grew older, I saw the difference. It was like when you might talk to Forrest Gump. Autistic in some ways, slow in others.” As an adult, it’s estimated Anthony had the mental maturity of an 11-year-old.
As a student, Anthony was placed in special-education programs in both middle and high school. “The schools tried to educate him, but he never came up to their expectations,” says his grandfather. “His teachers told us that he was somewhat [of] a classroom leader because he had less deficiency than most of the others.
“The family loved Anthony,” recalls his grandfather. “One thing we did notice was that he tried so hard to fit in. Around other kids, he acted like a kid and talked like a kid. With adults he went out of his way to be noticed, to please—often mimicking our conversations.”
Norman often took Anthony to work at his place of business, a small factory on several acres in Nuevo. “He liked to work,” says Norman, “so I would send him out into the field to cut weeds and stuff like that. He’d be chopping away, and suddenly somebody would ask, ‘Where is Anthony?’” We would find him way out in the field still chopping away. He worked so hard trying to make me happy. He loved it when I praised his work.”
Anthony was not a juvenile problem with the police, but, “One time as a teenager, he and a friend did some graffiti and were assigned to a work program as punishment—a misdemeanor,” recalls Norman.
“Anthony’s last day alive was spent with the family at a Christmas Eve ice-skating party in Temecula,” recalls Norman. “It was an annual family event and he seemed to not be himself—sad looking.”
After the family gathering, Anthony asked to return to his friend’s house on Candy Apple Way in Murrieta where he had been living for a period of time shortly before his death. After his sister dropped him off, Anthony smoked some marijuana with a friend and the rest is unclear. But, what we do know, is that shortly after midnight on Christmas of 2012, Anthony lay dead on the street just a few doors up from where he lived; Anthony’s family would never see him alive again.
Jerry Norman and his family grieve. “We will never be whole again. Anthony was special and offered a special love. We expect older folks to die first. When a child is taken, all the hopes of the future die with him. No one can replace him. So we suffer for the loss of our grandson. There will always be an empty place in the home and a vacant chamber in our hearts.”
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