TINLEY PARK | The Easter Seals Autism Therapeutic School that attracts students from across the south suburbs has a new computer lab with giant charts on the walls explaining how to log on to a computer, find specific information or solve a system crash.
The person for whom the new computer lab was named would have appreciated that, though he probably would not have needed the instructions himself.
The school chose to name its computer and language lab for former student Stephon Watts. The 15-year-old was shot and killed Feb. 1 by two Calumet City police officers while in his home. The Cook County state's attorney has since said there will be no criminal charges in the case.
On Friday, people at the school chose to remember Stephon as the young man whose diagnosis with Asperger's syndrome did not cover up his skills in terms of operating computers.
"He loved computers so much," said his mother, Danelene, who upon seeing the new computer room that has a plaque with her son's name on the door became choked up and started crying.
She said it used to amaze her the way Stephon could handle himself with ease on a computer. She recalled times when his father, Steven, would try to reduce his computer use by changing passwords, only to have Stephon manage to hack his way past any obstructions that would have stopped other people.
"He would be having too much fun with all this," she said of the computers, which were donated to the school by Naperville-based Chicago Computers.
Expressing similar thoughts was Wayne Watts, who said of his nephew, "He could build things with the parts from a computer. I believe he would someday have been able to get a job with computers."
The tribute to Stephon Watts was part of a morning-long observation of April as Autism Awareness Month. Students at the school put on a show consisting of musical numbers, a magic show and some dance, and balloons inscribed with Stephon's name were released into the air at noon.
Maryellen Bucci, the program manager at the school, said Stephon's death affected his fellow students, who because of their autism, could have hard times expressing their grief.
Yet Bucci said that when Stephon's classmates were told what happened to him, one reacted by pulling out a Bible, while another immediately sought to talk with a counselor. She also cited a special board used to record the accomplishments of individual students with credits. All the students, Bucci said, insisted on giving their credits for that day to Stephon as a gesture of support.
"It amazed me how deeply (Stephon) affected these boys," Bucci said.