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North Stonington — Debra Denison, 47, who shot and killed her two young grandsons Tuesday evening in a van parked near Lake of Isles then turned the gun on herself, had suffered from "split-personality disorder," according to the boys' great-uncle.
Robert White, great-uncle of Ashton Perry, 6 months, and Alton Perry, 2, said Thursday that Denison had been suffering from dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, and had been in "remission" for 17 months.
White read a brief statement Thursday afternoon under the awning of Grace Fellowship Evangelical Free Church on Route 184, asking that the boys' parents, Brenda and Jeremy Perry, be given privacy to grieve.
The family doesn't blame the day care center, he said, referring to Kidds & Co. in North Stonington, where Denison picked up her grandsons Tuesday afternoon. He said the Perrys know the day care center followed protocol.
With the uncle were Jeremy Perry's aunt Kathy White and two close family friends, Rachel and Jim Pinkham. Also present was Pastor Bob Patriel of Grace Fellowship.
Saying "they all need their space to grieve and time to heal," White said the boys' parents would give their own statement "when the time is right." Right now, "they are in dire need of their space," he said.
White said funeral arrangements have not been completed. He thanked the community for the "outpouring of support."
Of the two little boys, whom he last saw a week ago Sunday, White said they were "the happiest two little boys you've ever seen."
"I mean, they were just babies," he said. "Innocent children."
A troubled history
Documents filed at New London Superior Court relating to Denison's 1992 divorce from her second husband, Keith Rowley, and subsequent custody battle over their daughters, Brenda Perry and her older sister Jessica, detail a troubled emotional history and prolonged legal bickering in the dissolution of the marriage.
In February 1990, Denison apparently intentionally overdosed on pills before getting into a car accident, after which 31 "brief" suicide notes were found, according to court documents. In the fall of the previous year, documents say, Denison tried to drown herself.
After the car accident, Denison was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. She later said it was not a suicide attempt and disputed that she had an alcohol addiction, according to court documents.
While a court-appointed psychologist said Denison didn't demonstrate any "seriously disturbed behavior," he recommended primary custody of Brenda and Jessica be awarded to Keith Rowley in 1992, citing Denison's "frequent absence" from her children and her "limited awareness" of her children's needs. She was granted visitation rights.
Those rights were terminated temporarily in August of that year, but she was awarded custody of the girls a couple of years later.
Denison's troubles continued over the years. In 2010, her older son, Christopher Allen, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for felony murder. Records also show that 14 judgments and tax liens have been placed on the Denisons' Sherwood Drive home since 1997.
A candlelight vigil for the Perry family will be held at 7 tonight at the North Stonington recreation fields at 25 Rocky Hollow Road, next to the firehouse on Route 2. Pastor Larry Chappell of the North Stonington Bible Church will lead the service.
Those wishing to donate to the Perry Family Fund can donate at any Chelsea Groton Bank branch. Checks and letters may be mailed to Chelsea Groton Bank, P.O. Box 11, North Stonington, CT 06359.
The Gallup Hill School in Ledyard, where Brenda Perry was hired as a paraprofessional in January, will also be collecting donations to help cover the family's expenses. The collection will continue for one month. Contact the school at (860) 536-9477 for more information.