A 66-year-old college professor was beheaded by her mentally ill son, who then killed himself, on Long Island on Tuesday night. Patricia Ward, a professor at Farmingdale State College who taught language arts for 28 years there, was decapitated by 35-year-old son Derek Ward just before 8 p.m. that day in the street outside the Farmingdale apartment where they both lived; he then committed suicide by throwing himself in front of an LIRR train.
Police say that Ward used a knife to cut off his mother's head in front of their apartment building, then kicked the head across the street. In addition, she had suffered multiple stab wounds and broken bones.
Neighbors and police initially thought it was some sort of Halloween display: "I saw a head...It had long, black straight hair. I did a double-take thinking it was a stupid little shrunken heads you would hang as a Halloween thing," witness Dale Silverman, who had been driving home on Secatogue Avenue that night, told the Post. "I laughed like an idiot. I just laughed."
Other neighbors gathered around the body, which was outside for about 20 minutes while everyone tried to figure out what was going on. "One guy was tapping her head with his foot to see it was real," said witness Dean Corbo. "Some houses around there have pretty elaborate Halloween displays, so it wouldn’t have been weird if it was fake."
"I literally thought it was a prank," another witness told WCBS. "We saw the body on one side and saw the head on the other side. I thought everything was a prank." "Body is laying out in the street without a head on it,” witness Barbara Smalls added. "You figure, OK, someone is playing a Halloween prank, but for it to turn out to be a reality — wow."
Detectives say that Derek Ward had a psychiatric history dating back approximately 10 years: "It exacerbated itself within the last year...It just seemed to be he was acting out," said Detective Lt. John Azzata of Nassau homicide. Ward had been arrested several times since 2003 for various gun, drugs, and criminal mischief charges.
Ward's friends and coworkers at Farmington State College were understandably in shock upon learning the news Wednesday: "The staff in her department is teary-eyed," Patrick Calabria, vice president of institutional advancement at the college, told the Post. "We are providing counseling to the staff who need it. It’s a very sad day. A lot of people are taking it very hard."