From left, Anneliese, Steve, Matthew, Jami and Mark Ronda talk about what the family went through after Andrew Ronda, the youngest of the 16-year-old quadruplets, picked up a paring knife and stabbed Mark in the palm last May. Andrew appears in court today. - Jamie Lusch

'You can't be prepared for this'

Andrew Ronda's story has made headlines twice. The first time as the youngest quadruplet born to Jami and Steve Ronda of Medford in 1996.

The second time as a 16-year-old charged with trying to murder one of his brothers when his parents were out of the country last May.

People reading the news reports who don't know the Ronda family couldn't help but assume a modern Cain and Abel tale. Or worse.

But those who know Andrew describe him as a teenager with high functioning autism, who would talk endlessly, buzz through the house, take apart a VCR or try to build a robot, and leave the room during the violent parts of "The Lord of the Rings."

That boy, with unbound curiosity who could never concentrate on one project for more than 15 minutes, has spent the last four months in one place, the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Facility.

Today, he will appear before a judge and learn about his future.

But what about his past?

On Wednesday, his parents and three siblings sat together on a couch in their living room and told the story about that day when Andrew picked up a 3-inch paring knife and stabbed his brother Mark in the palm, making a cut that required two stitches.

Today, they hope Andrew will not be convicted but placed in treatment for his developmental disabilities and receive decision-making and cognitive behavior training.

"For 16 years we have been a complete family," says Steve, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder between daughter Anneliese and son Matthew.

His wife completes his thought: "But we know that Andrew will not be coming back to this house until his brothers and sisters have gone to college."

Steve calls the situation "surreal" and says it has been tough on everyone.

"You can't be prepared for this," he says. "But I can tell you this: There was no plot to kill his brother. This is a kid who has compulsions for a short period of time to act out to relieve the pain of anxiety. If he had been distracted by a video game and a Mountain Dew, it would not have happened."

Steve believes if he had been home at the time, he could have stopped it. He says Andrew is emotionally immature and needs help organizing his day. "We have charts to help him plan by 15-minute segments," he says.

On May 6, Jami and Steve, who met at North Medford High School, graduated in 1987 and married in 1992, were in Mexico celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. The children were staying with relatives but were allowed to come home during the day when the housesitter was there.

That change at home, Steve believes, created extreme anxiety and prompted Andrew to pick up a paring knife from the kitchen and take it to the backyard near the garage where his brother Mark was working. After he stabbed Mark, a concerned family member called the police to help calm Andrew down.

Andrew was taken away and was indicted by a Jackson County grand jury on charges of attempted murder and second-degree assault, both Measure 11 crimes, attempted first-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon. He was charged as an adult for all four offenses.

At the time, Chief Deputy District Attorney Beth Heckert said Andrew's defense attorney could order a mental health evaluation and said there is often "room for negotiations in these types of cases."

Heckert says she cannot comment further about the case until it closes, which should be today.

Andrew's parents learned of the stabbing and the charges on May 10, the morning they returned from their trip. Family members met them and showed them the story in the Mail Tribune.

Since then, the parents have visited Andrew twice a day, except when the detention center is closed to visitors on Sundays. His siblings, because of their age, are not allowed inside. They write Andrew and he writes back.

"It was a mother's nightmare to return from a romantic vacation and see her son in that situation," says Jami, a stay-at-home mom who has volunteered for five years to serve Thanksgiving meals to children in the same detention center where Andrew is held.

"Last year, I asked these boys and girls what got them to this place and they all said the thrill was too much and they just didn't care what happened," she says. "And I thought, with his disability, this could be Andrew."

Andrew was not diagnosed as autistic until after he spent time in classes with children with abusive homes, drug issues and behavioral problems.

"Andrew was like a sponge and he would soak up what he was learning at school," says Jami. "At home, he read 'The Hardy Boys' to act like he knew about crimes."

Starting in 2008, Andrew was referred to the juvenile justice department for misdemeanor charges, including harassment, reckless burning, second-degree criminal mischief and third-degree theft.

"The system is not set up for people with disabilities," says Steve, but he says they are grateful to the staff at the detention facility. "They have been so great," agrees Jami.

Jami says that for the first month after the stabbing, she was in such shock that she couldn't do the simplest of things, like cook.

Recently, she starting blogging about the situation at a site she created called Moms Who Ache: Moms of Prodigal, Ill or Jailed Children ( She says friends were reluctant to ask her about Andrew and she felt isolated.

"I want to help a mom to not feel alone," she says. "There are a lot of hurting people out there."

On Wednesday, she posted on the site: "We have a loving group of friends and community who have continued to pray for our boy. He really is a boy "… a tall, teenaged, little boy in so many ways. He will grow into manhood, not under our roof, but under someone else's jurisdiction. No matter where he goes, though, he will never be out from under God's grace or out of His sight. That is what I am relying on as this week unfolds."

Sister Anneliese says the situation has taught her to be more patient with people with disabilities. Brother Matthew says he never fully understood Andrew's disability, but they have all learned more. Mark, who never got frustrated over Andrew's constant talking and activity, says he's learned to recognize stress and deal with it.

"We are all adjusting to the new normal," says Steve.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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