The little girl endured the cyber-bullying by Jennifer Petkov as a result of a neighborhood dispute. Petkov posted pictures that portrayed the then 7-year-old above a set of crossbones, including one with the little girl's mother, Laura Edward, who died of Huntington's disease in 2009, in the arms of the grim reaper.
The now-former neighbor apparently also attached a coffin to her truck, labeled the contraption “The Death Machine” and drove around the neighborhood honking her horn celebrating Laura Edward’s death. Later, Petkov was arrested on assault and battery charges when she tried to run over a neighbor who was trying to visit the Edwards. She pleaded guilty and was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, anger management classes and probation. She was also told to move out of the neighborhood.
Kathleen received an outpouring of support from around the world as news of the bullying spread. The story moved people profoundly; toy store owner Hans Masing began a fund-raiser to give Kathleen a dream shopping spree in October 2010 in Ann Arbor.
Even though Kathleen could pick whatever she wanted at Tree Town Toys, she first went around the story and selected gifts for family members and friends. "She's the most caring person in the world," her father, Robert Edward, said after the shopping excursion. The family then ate a lunch which included watermelon and steak, Kathleen’s favorite foods.
Kathleen is survived also by two younger sisters, Ashley and Maddison.
Kathleen’s story has helped raise awareness about both cyber-bullying and Huntington’s disease, which affects one in 10,000 individuals nationally.
Huntington’s disease is a genetically-inherited degenerative disease of the brain which typically affects muscle coordination and cognitive skills. Symptoms typically begin between the ages of 35 – 44, but a juvenile form of the disease exists, as in Kathleen’s case. The earliest symptoms are a general lack of coordination and an unsteady gait. As the disease advances, uncoordinated, jerky body movements become more apparent, along with a decline in mental abilities and behavioral and psychiatric problems. Eventually, physical ability is impeded to such an extent that an individual cannot move; nevertheless, adult individuals have been known to live twenty years after diagnosis. About 6% of cases start before age 21. This juvenile variant of the condition is characterized by rapidly progressive rigidity rather than lack of coordination.
Michigan Memorial Funeral Home in Flat Rock is in charge of memorial services for Kathleen. Visitation will be 1-8 p.m. today at the funeral home, 30895 W. Huron River Drive. The funeral will be held there at noon Saturday.
Kathleen will be buried next to her mother at Mt. Hope Memorial Gardens cemetery in Livonia.
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