TAYLOR — Authorities in Lackawanna County filed murder charges Wednesday against three women they believe neglected a family member with Down syndrome, causing his death.
Prosecutors in Lackawanna County call this one of the worst cases they’ve ever seen: a man with Down syndrome allowed to waste away, allegedly at the hands of his own family.
His mother and two sisters were charged with murder Wednesday. Investigators say they collected his benefits as he starved to death.
Police say the Gensiak family lived on William Street in Taylor, a mother, her three adult children, and a grandchild. The mother, Susan Gensiak, 59, and her daughters Joan, 35, and Rebekah, 24, are charged with third degree murder.
Prosecutors say the neglect going on inside the home was unimaginable. Robert Gensiak, a Down syndrome patient, was dying of a treatable skin disease and weighed only 69 pounds.
“I tried, all kinds of ways,” Susan Gensiak said as she was led into Taylor Police Headquarters.
Gensiak raised three children. Her two daughters walked alongside her in handcuffs outside the Taylor Police Department.
Many neighbors say they didn’t even know Robert Gensiak lived there with his mother and sisters. Prosecutors think Robert spent the last few months of his life confined to a chair in a closed off room.
“To do something like that to something you gave birth to, that’s awful. I don’t know how anyone would do that. I hope they get the death sentence. That’s just terrible,” said neighbor Donna Steele.
Some neighbors were brought to tears when they heard Susan, Joan, and Rebekah Gensiak had been charged with murder but they were more upset that the alleged neglect, even Robert’s existence, went unnoticed for years.
“It’s hard to believe, to do that to a stranger is bad enough, but one of your own? No, I just can’t believe it,” said neighbor Tom Phillips.
“Disgusted, that someone would do that to their own children, it’s a shame,” said neighbor Pearl Noakes.
According to court papers, the last time the Gensiaks took Robert to see a doctor was in 2009. But his sisters called a doctor in March saying Robert was weak. That doctor told them to call 911. What emergency workers found was much worse than weakness.
Skin doctors say Robert died on March 20 of a severe case of scabies, a contagious skin disease that covered his body. He had bed sores from head to toe, and weighed only 69 pounds.
When asked by police why they never took Robert to a care facility, his family said they were worried they’d lose his monthly social security check. His sister Joan said the money “went towards his rent.”
Lackawanna County District Attorney Andy Jarbola called this case the worst neglect case he’d seen in almost 30 years, another reason prosecutors decided to charge the Gensiak’s with third-degree murder. Susan, Joan, and Rebekah are locked up in the Lackawanna County Prison.
Experts involved with caring for people with disabilities say tragedy like this is avoidable and help is available for families.