Kay Barragan, 65, was found dead by the family driver early Wednesday morning at the bottom of the stairs at her Long Island, N.Y., home that she shared with her son, Eduardo "Eddie" Barragan, 38.
While parents may feel guilty about placing their adult children in assisted-living homes, health professionals warn that it's important to recognize when a child's disability could pose a threat to one's safety.
"Parents have to stop and ask, 'Can I take care of this child while ensuring my safety and their safety?'" said Roya Ostovar, a clinical psychiatrist in Boston.
Nassau County police, who said the cause of Barragan's death was blunt-force trauma, charged her son with second-degree murder in connection with his mother's death. Authorities did not know Thursday whether the son had a lawyer.
Stan Steinreich, the spokesman for 1800mattress.com, the national bedding retailer best known for its catchy slogan "leave off the last s for savings," called Barragan's death and the arrest of her son a "double tragedy."
"[She] was very, very dedicated to both the company and her family, which in later years became the center of her life," Steinreich said.
As for her son, who doesn't have an official job at the company, Steinreich said, "He was very upbeat and effervescent. He'd pop into a meeting and in his own unique way say, 'How's the business going, how are we doing today.' I think he very much felt a part of the business and the broader 1800mattress family."
Barragan, credited for giving $2,000 of her earnings from the beauty company Avon to her husband Napolean Barragan in 1976 to start Dial-A-Mattress, had lived with her son for his entire life, according to Steinreich. Dial-A-Mattress was renamed 1800mattress.com in 1996. Amid falling sales, the company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
Kay Barragan and Napolean Barragan had been separated for a few years, so he no longer lived with his wife and son.
"They were always together," Steinreich said of Barragan and her son. "He was incapable of living on his own."
Steinreich declined to go into detail about the son's condition, other than to say he suffered from a mental illness. In an interview with the New York Daily News Thursday, Eddie Barragan's sister, Kay Otilia Massel, said her brother had long suffered from schizophrenia.
Steinreich said that Barragan had never complained of needing help caring for her son and that it was not uncommon for one of the 180 employees of the company to lend a hand when she needed assistance.
Ostovar, who's also director for the Center for Neurodevelopmental Services at Harvard's McLean Hospital, said it's not unusual for parents with disabled children to resist getting help, even when they realize their own safety may be at risk.
"Parents fear that nobody will take as good care of their child as they would," Ostavar said. "When you're in the midst of all of this, it's very hard to step back and reassess the situation and figure out that it's time to ask for help.
"The thought of handing over your child to someone else -- a stranger -- places a tremendous amount of guilt on the parent."