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Officials probe death of boy, 7

Christian Scientist parents investigated

Prosecutors are investigating whether a Christian Scientist couple from Norwood should be charged in connection with the death of their 7-year-old son, who became gravely ill from an apparently undiagnosed case of diabetes, state and local officials said.

The state Department of Social Services also is investigating the death of Eben Tryon, a second-grader at the John P. Oldham elementary school in Norwood, whose parents are practicing Christian Scientists, a faith that relies largely on the healing power of prayer.

Jack Burns, Oldham's principal, said Eben complained of stomach pains on Nov. 7 in the late morning. The school nurse called the family, and Eben's mother picked him up early from school, Burns said.

Less than two days later, at about 4 a.m. on Nov. 9, Eben's parents rushed him to Norwood Hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival, said Norfolk County spokesman David Traub. An initial autopsy showed no sign of physical abuse, and the official cause of death is pending, he said. Investigators are looking at whether the parents took appropriate action over the weekend before going to the hospital.

Denise Monteiro, spokeswoman for DSS, said she was told that the preliminary autopsy report showed Eben had extremely high blood sugar levels indicating he probably suffered from diabetes.

In a phone interview yesterday, Eben's mother, Marilyn Tryon, said until her son's death he had been a healthy boy with no chronic problems. She said she and her husband are practicing Christian Scientists, but they believe in medical treatment if anyone becomes critically ill.

"In cases of extreme illness, we seek medical attention," she said.

The mother said she was too distraught to discuss her religious beliefs further, but referred questions to Jane McCarty, a Christian Scientist spokeswoman for the Norwood region. McCarty said Christian Scientists believe in prayer and "spiritual treatment" for medical problems, but individuals may decide whether they wish to seek medical treatment for themselves or family members.

One of the most locally publicized cases about medical care for the children of Christian Scientists involved David and Ginger Twitchell, who had lived in Hyde Park. While the state's highest court in 1993 overturned their manslaughter conviction in the death of their 2-year-old son, saying the couple did not receive a fair trial, judges emphasized that parents have a legal duty to provide medical care for critically ill children. The Twitchells' son had suffered from a bowel obstruction.

Yesterday, DSS spokeswoman Monteiro said the Tryons are being allowed to keep custody of their only other child, a 5-year-old girl who receives special services for Down syndrome, while the agency continues investigating Eben's death.

Generally, a child who suffers from diabetes has some symptoms, though they can be missed and life-threatening cases do occasionally come on suddenly, said Marge Dwyer, a spokeswoman for the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Early symptoms of diabetes in children include extreme thirst, frequent urination, lethargy, and sudden weight loss.

Burns, the principal at Oldham elementary school, said Eben had been a student there since kindergarten.

Counselors have been available to help classmates cope with the boy's sudden death.

Eben appeared to be a healthy child, so the death came as a shock, Burns said. "He was not known as sickly," he said.

Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com.

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