Police: Professor Beaten to Death by Autistic Son

Sky Walker couldn't tell his mother if he loved her. Or why he liked "The Price is Right."

But Getrude Steuernagel was devoted to her son, nonetheless, even when their world shrank as Walker's severe autism seemingly cut them off from many aspects of a normal life.

Now, Walker, 18, is sitting in a jail cell, accused of beating his mother to death, while her friends and family members struggle to understand why -- an answer that may never come.

"There really weren't any clues in the house," Molly Merryman, a friend and Kent State University associate professor, told ABCNews.com. "I think it's always something we'll wonder about and never know."

Steuernagel, a political science professor who had penned opinion pieces on her son's autism for the university's Daily Kent Stater, was found severely beaten in their Kent, Ohio, home Jan. 29 after university employees called police when she failed to show up for work.

Portage County Sheriff's Office Major Dennis Missimi said Steuernagel, 60, was found on the kitchen floor. Walker was in his room.

"They approached him. There was a slight scuffle that ensued when he was taken into custody," Missimi said of Walker's arrest.

Errol Can, an attorney in Kent who has been hired to represent Walker, said he had no comment on his client's case.

Rushed to the hospital, Steuernagel died Friday without regaining consciousness.

Summit County Medical Examiner Investigator Gary Guenther told ABCNews.com that the office was still waiting for medical records and tests on tissue samples before ruling on Steuernagel's cause of death. But Monday's autopsy revealed "multiple bruising" on her head and chest as well as brain trauma.

Initially charged with attempted murder along with assault on a police officer, Missimi said he expects Walker's charge to be upgraded to murder. The police officer he allegedly assaulted was kicked in the face and has returned to work.

Living With Sky

By Steuernagel's own writings, life with Walker was not an easy one. She mused about becoming more and more isolated as her son got older and friends began to shy away from sending invitations to weddings and parties.

And they seemed not to understand her life, nor she theirs.

"I had no patience with good and decent colleagues who told me how busy they were," she wrote in a March 2008 opinion piece for the Stater. "Busy? Try spending an evening sitting in a closet with your back to the door trying to hold it shut while your child kicks it in."

Merryman said that Steuernagel -- known to everyone as "Trudy" -- wasn't interested in candy-coating the reality of living with a severely autistic child. And her life was not an unhappy one.

Merryman said Steuernagel and Walker would eat dinners together and socialize at Merryman's farm where Walker would delight in taking walks and sneaking her Weimaraner forkfuls of pasta.

"He was never much on communicating, but we would have a lot of fun together," she said.

Steuernagel wrote that she began to look for joy in their lives no matter how small or inconsequential it may have seemed to the outside world -- vanilla ice cream, a TV game show or even the few minutes of peace she got while Walker put on his shoes.

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