An autistic man was reportedly bullied by two other men before they stabbed him to death behind a Wal-Mart store, WNCN reports.
Steven Joseph Rouse, 22, of Greenville, North Carolina, died after being stabbed several times in a parking lot behind a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market around 7 p.m. on Oct 19. Two men, Michael O'Neal, 21, and Curtis Lamar Wade, 26, have been charged with his murder.
Rouse, a graduate of JH Rose High School in Greenville, had Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism that causes difficulty with social interaction and nonverbal communication.
His mother, Portia, told WNCN that her son had been bullied mercilessly by his attackers in the weeks leading up to his death.
“He was sweet and kind and quiet and they picked on someone too kind to hurt anyone or anything,” she said, adding that her son was likely targeted due to his autism.
Rouse, who had recently moved into his own apartment for the first time, reportedly met O'Neal and Wade on public transportation. According to his mother, the two men harassed Rouse for weeks before the stabbing.
Witnesses to the Oct. 19 incident told police that they saw O'Neal and Wade get into an altercation with Rouse in the city's Park West Drive area, where all three lived. The two men then chased the victim through a field between Park West Drive and the Wal-Mart parking lot, where they caught up to him and stabbed him multiple times with a knife, according to police reports.
“I kept feeling for a pulse. Just, you know, just basically trying to keep him talking or doing something,” Kimberly Sutton, a witness who tried to assist Rouse after the stabbing, told WITN.
Sutton added that Rouse's last words before he lost consciousness were to his mother, "I’m sorry. Just let my mom know I love her."
Rouse, who suffered several stab wounds to his upper torso, was taken to Vidant Medical Center but was later pronounced dead.
O'Neal and Wade were questioned by police and arrested after they went to the same hospital later that night to seek treatment for minor injuries that O'Neal reportedly sustained in the altercation with the victim.
The two men have been charged with an open count of murder and are currently being held in the Pitt County Detention Center, each on $2 million bail. Their next court date is scheduled for Nov. 4.
Rouse's mother said she believes the incident was not a two-sided altercation, but a planned killing.
“It was not a fight … they waited and chased my son down and murdered him,” she told WNCN.
A GoFundMe page has been created to help Rouse's family cover the costs of his funeral, which took place at the Greenville Church of God on Oct. 25. The page has raised more than $3,700.
Disabled individuals age 12 and older experienced 1.3 million nonfatal violent crimes in 2012, nearly three times the rate for those without disabilities, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.