GREENVILLE, NC (WNCN) — A North Carolina mom said her son is dead because he was bullied and targeted for being autistic.
Steven Joseph Rouse, age 22, of Greenville died on Monday evening after an incident around 7 p.m. behind a Walmart in Greenville, police say.
Rouse, who had Asperger’s syndrome, died after he was stabbed several times in a parking lot behind a Walmart Neighborhood Market.
Asperger’s is a form of autism where people have difficulties with social interaction and nonverbal communication — accompanied by restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
Police say the investigation into the incident is ongoing, but that two men have been charged with an open count of murder after the death of the JH Rose High School graduate.
Rouse’s mom, Portia Rouse, said that her son told her that he met two men on public transportation who were bullying him.
Steven, whose funeral is Sunday afternoon, was disabled, but had recently moved into his own apartment for the first time, his mom told WNCN.
“He was sweet and kind and quiet and they picked on someone too kind to hurt anyone or anything,” Rouse said, pointing out that Steven had a genius level IQ.
A witness, who along with a neighbor tried to help Rouse in the minutes after the stabbing, told WITN-TV that Rouse’s last words were “Just let my mom know I love her.”
With being independent for the first time, Rouse had spent considerable time with her son Steven going over the safest routes to the grocery store and the importance of locking doors and not allowing people inside.
“He was doing so well, his life was so good — and bullies killed my son,” she said, adding that Steven wanted to become an orthopedic doctor.
Witnesses told police they saw two men get into an altercation with Rouse in the Park West Drive area, chasing Rouse through a field that connects Park West Drive and Walmart, where they caught up to Rouse and attacked him with a knife, police say.
“It was not a fight… they waited and chased my son down and murdered him,” Rouse said. “They had bullied him for weeks,” she added.
Rouse was found in a parking lot with multiple stab wounds to the upper torso. Rouse was taken to Vidant Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.
Kimberly Sutton, a witness, said that she and a neighbor tried to help Rouse just after the stabbing.
“I kept feeling for a pulse. Just, you know, just basically trying to keep him talking or doing something,” Sutton told WITN. “But when he dropped and said the last words to his mom – I’m sorry. Just let my mom know I love her.'”
Shortly thereafter, police say 21-year-old Michael O’Neal and 26-year-old Curtis Lamar Wade, now charged in the case, showed up at the same hospital.
O’Neal was seeking treatment for minor injuries. After interviews with the two men, and witness reports at the scene, detectives connected O’Neal and Wade to the fatal stabbing, police said.
It’s believed that the minor injuries O’Neal suffered happened at some point during the altercation, police say.
The cause of the fight between the three men is still under investigation, police say.
But, Portia Rouse is now raising funds to pay for the funeral of her oldest child, Steven. A GoFundMe page called “Goodbye World, Hello Heaven” has been set up.
“I had no life insurance on him — who thinks their child is going to be murdered?” she said.
Wade and O’Neal were both charged with an open count of murder. They were booked in the Pitt County Detention Center without bonds. Their next court date is set for November 4.
Police say the victim and suspects all lived on Park West Drive.
According to Smith Funeral Service & Crematory the funeral for Rouse is at the Greenville Church of God on Sunday at 3 p.m.
— WNCT-TV contributed to this report