Robert Ethan Saylor had Down syndrome and a desire to watch a movie twice. Neither fact killed him. If society continues to sit idly by as individuals with disabilities are wronged amid silent acceptance, then we are as much to blame for his death.

As a child, I remember an evening when summer wafted through the windows in a mix of traffic, voices and music.

Abruptly, the air was pierced by screams and shouts. My mother ran to the window and saw a man and a woman standing in the shadows next door. The house was notorious for scuffles and lost souls coming and going.

That night, she stepped onto our porch.

"You take your hands off her!" she shouted toward the couple. "I'm calling the police!" she yelled for good measure.handcuffs

I was frightened. I could heard the man screaming obscenities at my mom and telling her where she could go to mind her own business. But they stopped fighting. The man drove off.

As a teen, I found that scene embarrassing. As an adult, I'm proud that my mom stood up for someone who needed help.

I tried

Years later, I felt my own adrenaline fire up when we came to a complete stop on a freeway lined by concrete barricades separating traffic from construction. A fire truck wailed to a stop behind us. While cars could pull over to make way for the emergency vehicle, two 18-wheelers sat shoulder to shoulder with nowhere to go.

My mother's genes kicked in. In heels, I leapt from the car and jogged from SUV to pickup to sedan, waving cars to the side. When I reached the 18-wheelers, I beckoned the drivers from their perches.

Maybe they were startled by the psychotic chick weaving through cars on foot or maybe they were amused. Regardless, I persuaded the oil tanker to try to parallel-park in the space my wild jaunt had created. The driver looked at me incredulously. I didn't look away. "You can do this," I said, with confidence.

So he tried.

Watchers must become doers

As he maneuvered, I ran back to the fire truck and climbed the step to knock on the window. The fireman was a grizzled veteran. I said, "If we can get that truck in that space, can you make it through?"

I pictured a terrible crash up ahead. I knew I needed that fire truck to get through to the emergency.

"We sure can," he said, with a glint of amusement in his eyes.

"OK, then get ready," I said, and clopped back to the oil truck. He tried repeatedly to maneuver enough, but to no avail. But cars continued to inch forward and back, now being urged by others who had emerged from their cars to join the effort. Strangers were really helping!

Nonetheless, we weren't able to clear a path — cement and steel rejected all attempts.

"Thank you for trying," the fireman said to me. "You almost did it." The amusement was gone from his eyes. No matter. I had failed. I got back into the car where my then-boyfriend had remained, looking embarrassed.

People are either doers or they're watchers.

"What? I had to do something!" I exclaimed. I was annoyed by his embarrassment. "People are either doers or they're watchers."

I didn't succeed. But I didn't sit back and just watch. I tried.

Who cares about this story? Robert Ethan Saylor died in a movie theater in Frederick, Maryland, because people were watching instead of doing.

We need more doers. We can speak up respectfully — that's a start. But when we see something that doesn't look right, we must become doers. I don't believe those officers ever intended to harm Ethan.

But he died. And it was preventable.

Read more about special needs advocacy

Learn to advocate for your child with special needs
One mother's plea to stop use of the 'R' word
Down syndrome: Is awareness overdone and action overdue?

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