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Friends: Professor loved son charged in beating

Friends: Professor loved son charged in beating

A Kent State University professor who was fatally beaten in her home was devoted to caring for her 18-year-old autistic son, who is charged with attacking her, friends say.
Gertrude "Trudy" Steuernagel, 60, struggled to raise her son Sky Walker, but she loved him and would want people to know that autism doesn't equal violence, said Steven Hook, chairman of the school's political science department, where Steuernagel taught political theory and women's studies.
Steuernagel died Friday in a hospital, a week after she was severely injured in a beating.
An autopsy completed Monday showed bruises around her head and chest, said Gary Guenther, an investigator with the Summit County medical examiner's office. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
Walker, who is being held in jail on $2 million bond, was scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on charges of attempted murder and assault on a police officer. Portage County Sheriff David Doak said the charge might be upgraded to murder.
Errol Can, an attorney representing Walker, declined to comment. Authorities have not discussed a possible motive.
Walker was diagnosed with autism before he turned 3. His father lived with the family until the mid-1990s, and in recent years was completely absent from Walker's life, said Molly Merryman, a colleague of Steuernagel's.
"I really, more than anything, want to say that these were a mother and son who loved each other deeply," said Merryman, who hosted Steuernagel and Walker at her farm on weekends.
Steuernagel wrote op-ed articles for the campus newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, about the challenges of having an autistic child.
"I had no patience with good and decent colleagues who told me how busy they were," she wrote. "Busy? Try spending an evening sitting in a closet with your back to the door trying to hold it shut while your child kicks it in."
Her son may have been a source of stress, but Steuernagel wrote that she also found him to be a source of joy.
"Sky, as he always does, showed me the way," she wrote. "Even on the worst of days, Sky would find something to enjoy, even if it lasted less than 30 seconds ... So I started to look for my joy."