Mother Strangled Adult Daughter With Autism After Struggle Over Getting Dressed

A woman in Elko County, Nevada, purposely strangled her autistic adult daughter in a fit of frustration.

Judith Zavala, 61, served as the primary caregiver for her daughter, April, 24, since she was born. At age three, April was diagnosed with autism. According to Judith, April was high-functioning.

However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, April’s behavior changed and Judith had to spend more of her time caring for her daughter. Judith told police April stopped communicating with her and became “unmanageable;” she began having fits and outbursts. According to Judith, April experienced “a chemical shift in her brain” and that’s what caused the change in behavior.

Photo: Elko Daily

It’s unclear why Judith thought this — Judith hadn’t sought medical care for her daughter when she began acting differently. In fact, according to Judith, April hadn’t even visited a doctor in several years, and didn’t see a health professional for anything autism-related.

April was “otherwise healthy” and the only medication she was given was melatonin drops to help her sleep or calm down.

On Sunday, June 14th, Judith’s husband went fishing with his son, leaving Judith and April alone together at home. At around 3:00 that afternoon, Judith tried to get April out of bed and dressed so she could eat.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Pamela Au

Judith originally told police that April had suddenly stopped breathing on her own and collapsed to the floor. Judith didn’t know CPR so couldn’t help her daughter. She didn’t reach out to neighbors or 911 for help, she said, because she just “panicked.”

When Judith’s husband came home around 7:00, he discovered April was dead. He told his son, who immediately came over to the home and then called 911.

Photo: Adobe Stock/New Africa

An autopsy found that April’s cause of death had been strangulation.

That’s when Judith’s story changed and she admitted what really happened.

When Judith tried to get April dressed, April insisted she could dress herself and became irritated with her mom. This small act of independence and defiance was apparently enough to send Judith over the edge. She “snapped” and strangled her daughter until she stopped breathing.

Photo: Adobe Stock/franz12

Judith told police that she was “in shock” and “could not believe what she had done.”

Judith then dressed April and got her in bed. Then she lay down next to her dead daughter until her husband came home.

Photo: Flickr/Tony Webster

Judith told police that she had become “exhausted and overwhelmed” from caring for her daughter so much over the previous few months, on top of daily stress she had been under for 24 years being her daughter’s primary caregiver.

Judith has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail. The investigation is ongoing.

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