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Modesto mother arrested on suspicion of stabbing son

FILE PHOTO — Ashwood Village Apartments well wishers on Sept. 27, 2010 stand near the growing pile of stuffed animals, candles, flowers, hand made messages for Miles Hankins.  The 13-year-old was found in his home with multiple stab wounds.
FILE PHOTO — Ashwood Village Apartments well wishers on Sept. 27, 2010 stand near the growing pile of stuffed animals, candles, flowers, hand made messages for Miles Hankins. The 13-year-old was found in his home with multiple stab wounds. The Modesto Bee

Anitra Hankins held a prayer vigil in May for her 13-year-old son the day before he was scheduled to undergo a series of surgeries and medical procedures.

"Despite his life-threatening illnesses, Miles has a heartwarming spirit, which has touched countless lives in a positive way," Hankins wrote in a flier promoting the vigil for her son. "Please join us as we pray for and support Miles."

Early Monday, Modesto police arrested Hankins, 36, on suspicion of attempted murder and torture after officers found Miles stabbed multiple times. He was lying in the hallway of his and his mother's apartment with his feet bound with rope.

The attack and the arrest have stunned Hankins' neighbors and family, who described the single mother as loving and compassionate.

"Her son has been so sick ever since he has been in the world," said Hankins' aunt Velma Hankins Richardson of East Palo Alto. "She's been a very good mother.

"We don't know what happened. We are all torn up about it. We can't believe it happened. She was by here about two weeks ago, both of them, looking happy."

Karie Tooze and her son, Christopher, have been the Hankinses' neighbors for seven years at Ashwood Village Apartments, a 120-unit complex at 2800 W. Rumble Road. They attended the May prayer vigil.

"She's definitely a wonderful mom," Karie Tooze said.

Police said Hankins called 911 about 6 p.m. Sunday to report that her son was hurt but refused to provide details. Miles was taken by ambulance to a Modesto hospital where he underwent surgery.

Modesto police said Monday afternoon that Miles was in stable condition.

"We are cautiously optimistic that he will pull out of it," said Sgt. Rick Armendariz, a department spokesman. "It's too early to say what the long-term prognosis is, but doctors are hopeful he will remain stable and survive."

Detectives interviewed Hankins at the Police Department and spent the night working the crime scene -- interviewing family, friends and others.

Armendariz said Hankins was booked at the Public Safety Center at 3:43 a.m. Monday and is being held on $500,000 bail. Police did not release a motive for the attack.

Neighbors said Hankins and her son lived alone, but aides came by daily to help care for Miles. They said he needs help with eating, bathing, dressing and other tasks.

In a 2005 bankruptcy filing, Hankins listed her occupation as a caregiver for her son through the county's In-Home Supportive Services program.

Velma Hankins Richardson -- Hankins' aunt -- said besides being autistic, Miles has a host of other medical conditions and that he spent weeks at a time in the hospital at Stanford University. She could not recall the details of his medical conditions.

Neighbors described Miles as a sweet boy who struggled to say "Hi" and wave at them but liked being around people and holding their hands.

But he was getting harder to control as he grew bigger and stronger. Miles is about a head taller than his mother after a recent growth spurt, neighbors said.

Speaking in general terms and not about this incident, an autism expert said the stress of caring for an autistic child can be daunting.

Children who are severely affected by autism can have a limited ability to communicate, which can lead to frustration. That frustration can lead to aggression, said Kym Cassaretto, the clinical director of the Central Valley Autism Project in Modesto, in an e-mail. These children can be rigid and inflexible or engage in repetitive behavior.

"The stress ... can be enormous," Cassaretto said. "It can be an overwhelming challenge, both physically and emotionally. ... For a single parent of a child with autism, the stress is only intensified."

Tooze said it was a shock to see Hankins on Sunday night as officers moved her from one police car to another at the apartment complex. The Hankins she knows is friendly, well- spoken and warm.

"I was totally expecting to see her weeping and torn apart," Tooze said. "She wasn't. She looked straight ahead and was dazed. I knew she was gone. She'd never be the same. Whatever happened had broken her."

Bee assistant librarian Karen Aiello contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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