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5-year-old trick-or-treater tests positive for meth

A sample of methamphetamine in powder form. Tribune photo/Greg Fight.
A sample of methamphetamine in powder form. Tribune photo/Greg Fight.
Published Oct. 30, 2018

The appointed time for trick-or-treating in Galion, Ohio, is from 2 to 4 p.m. on the last Sunday of October - during daylight hours that make it easier for parents and police to keep costumed kids safe.

This year, rain fell during that two-hour window in the northern Ohio city. Afterward, as Braylen Carwell peeled off his costume and prepared to dive into his haul, he thought his sudden shaking was related to the cold, wet weather.

"I was putting my socks on and then I started to shiver," the 5-year-old told CBS affiliate WBNS. "And then I couldn't move my arm or my fingers."

The child's father rushed him to a hospital. But by then, "the left side of his face was just droopy and then he fell and then he couldn't move his left arm," his mother, Julia Pence, told the station. "And he didn't know where he was, he didn't know what he was doing."

Braylen's parents thought it was a seizure.

But a urine test revealed the real cause: methamphetamine.

His father, Cambray Carwell, told investigating officers that he had taken his children trick-or-treating on the city's west side, according to a police report. When they got home, Carwell told police, the children removed their costumes - and Braylen "fell over having a seizure of some sort."

Braylen had only eaten a couple pieces of candy, his father said, but had placed fake vampire teeth into his mouth before he started shaking.

Carwell said he threw the candy into the trash, and police drove to the father's house to book the child's Halloween haul into evidence. Carwell and Pence did not immediately return calls from The Washington Post seeking comment.

No one has been arrested in the drugging, and investigators have not identified a suspect, Galion Police Chief Brian Saterfield told The Washington Post.

"We know that the child tested positive for methamphetamine but we don't know what kind," he said. "The average person that sees the headline automatically thinks crystal meth, but we don't know if it was an illegal drug, a prescription drug or what."

In the United States, for example, the prescription drug desoxyn (methamphetamine hydrochloride) has been approved by the FDA for treating obesity and ADHD.

Police posted a warning on their Facebook page, though no other child in Galion has turned up with similar symptoms, said Satterfield, the department's chief.

Braylen was hospitalized for seven hours but is expected to make a full recovery.

The thought of nefarious strangers sliding tainted candy into the pails of unsuspecting trick-or-treaters is an urban legend that refuses to die.

It has roots that date back to Halloween deaths decades ago.

On Oct. 31, 1974, Ronald Clark O'Bryan laced his 8-year-old's Pixy Stix with cyanide. The boy complained of searing stomach pain, then died on his way to a hospital, The Post reported.

O'Bryan's goal, investigators learned, was collecting $20,000 in insurance money. To cover his tracks, he placed the cyanide-laced candy in bags belonging to his own children - and to those of other kids in the neighborhood.

He was executed a decade later, but not before other condemned prisoners gave him a villainous nickname that has endured for more than 40 years: the Candy Man.

Several years before the Pixy Stix killing, 5-year-old Kevin Toston's family said he died after snacking on tainted trick-or-treat candy while staying at his uncle's house. Authorities later determined that the child had gotten into his uncle's poorly-hidden stash of heroin, eaten it and died, according to Aaron Carroll, who's written a book on urban legends.

In both instances, the victims were related to the people responsible for their deaths. But national stories about children who died after eating tainted candy transformed Halloween inspections from something only paranoid people did into standard Parenting 101 behavior.

Statistically, though, there are bigger dangers for children on Halloween, such as an increased likelihood of getting hit by a car, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, law enforcement agencies have issued warnings after finding drugs made to look like candy. And as marijuana legalization spread, law enforcement agencies warned parents about the dangers of THC-laced candy in Halloween bags, although those fears never materialized, The Post reported.

Turning meth into lollipops is usually done to make the drugs more palatable to adults, and less risky to transport, Bill Piper, the senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Post last year.

"It's easy for people to fall for this marketing to children because there's this misconception that drug dealers are standing on the street corner handing out free drugs," said Piper, whose nonprofit organization promotes drug-law reform. "Adults don't want nasty-tasting stuff either. We especially find in the flavored meth, a lot of that turned out to be flavoring for adults."

In Ohio, Saterfield, the Galion police chief, said his investigators are keeping an open mind about what happened to Braylen.

The boy's mother told WBNS that she and Braylen's father are recovering drug addicts, but that both have been clean for years. She denied that her son could have come into contact with the meth via a family member.

"I'm not covering up the truth," she told WBNS on Monday. "I'm just speaking the truth of what happened to my son yesterday. Nobody in my family or [Braylen's] dad's family would drug my children."

"It's your duty to protect your children from everything," she added. "You can't protect them from everything. You just have to be aware and do the best that you can."