October trial to decide custody of autistic boys

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

Updated: June 7, 2011, 7:13 PM

 

The permanent custody of two autistic boys who were reportedly held captive in a cagelike room will be decided at an Oct. 7 trial.

In the meantime, the boys, ages 6 and 7, will stay in foster care, Clark County Superior Court Commissioner Carin Schienberg decided at a Tuesday hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Dana Gigler said there was “no substantial change in circumstances” warranting a shift in the boys’ care. Currently, the boys are staying in foster homes in Clark County; two other boys of the father, John Eckhart, and his live-in girlfriend, Alayna Higdon, are staying with family members.

The two autistic boys are now enrolled in schools in Clark County, a Department of Social and Health Services spokeswoman said.

The autistic boys’ biological mother, Jona Bronson, lives in Tillamook, Ore., and is seeking permanent custody. She has been allowed visitation at a DSHS office; a no-contact order is in place for Eckhart in connection to his criminal case.

Bronson was not present for Tuesday’s hearing, but her Vancouver attorney appeared on her behalf.

Eckhart, 30, and Higdon, 26 were arrested April 12 after Vancouver police found the boys in a dark, mostly empty bedroom with a door and window covered with wire shelving similar to those used in closets. The boys were still in diapers, not enrolled in school and couldn’t speak, police said.

An apartment maintenance worker at the complex on Northeast 66th Avenue, Springfield Meadows, became aware of the situation during a routine premises check and notified police.

Eckhart and Higdon, who are both free on bail, have a trial date in their criminal case set for Sept. 26. They are charged with unlawful imprisonment, a class C felony.

Schienberg said she wanted the custody trial to occur after the conclusion of the criminal case.

A review hearing of the brothers’ temporary placement is set for June 28.