Teen remembered as ‘wonderful gem of a child’

Teen remembered as ‘wonderful gem of a child’

Charlotte Rose McNeil MacLean a ‘can-do kid’

Charlotte

Charlotte Rose McNeil MacLean

Just like the flower that is part of her name, Charlotte Rose McNeil MacLean had begun to blossom since late last year.

The 19-year-old Santa Ynez woman, who was killed Aug. 3 when she was ejected from a pickup that rolled over on Ballard Canyon Road, had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in December 2012 while attending a therapeutic boarding school for girls in Utah.

Since the diagnosis, Charlotte had begun to overcome the struggles she had grown up with, being bullied and other maltreatment, and the fear of not know who she was, to graduating high school and completing her therapy program, both at Eva Carlston Academy in Salt Lake City, said her mother, Teresa McNeil MacLean.

“It was just an immediate turnaround,” she said.

The June 27 graduation was so significant to Charlotte that she had the date tattooed on her wrist as a reminder of what she described as “the happiest day of my life.”

Named after Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger, the syndrome falls on the autism spectrum disorder. People with Asperger’s can be highly intelligent and have sometimes obsessive interests while often lacking social skills.

Teresa said Charlotte was “irresponsibly helpful and kind.” She would stop in the middle of the road to help a dog, gave away her clothes in Mexico and thought about others in need of help first, even if they were strangers.

Charlotte was beautiful, kind, sensitive, poised and extraordinarily bright and talented, Teresa said.

“A wonderful gem of a child we were privileged to parent,” Charlotte’s mom said.

Teresa, an artist and musician, said she and her husband, Doug MacLean, a retired teacher, have been “buffeted and lifted” by the support of friends and acquaintances from the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond.

Charlotte left for Utah in October 2011 sullen and angry, and came back this summer happy and focused, Teresa said.

The teen returned to the Central Coast having figured out who she was and excited about starting classes at Santa Barbara City College.

The crash that killed Charlotte also injured five other teenagers, including the driver, who was arrested.

Born July 17, 1994, in Apple Valley in San Bernardino County, Charlotte was adopted as a newborn by the MacLeans. The MacLeans, who moved to Santa Ynez from Santa Barbara in 1983, had been on a waiting list at a Santa Barbara adoption center for several years.

Charlotte bounced around from school to school in the Santa Ynez Valley, she repeated seventh grade, and also attended Lompoc Valley Middle School, where Doug taught science.

Her treatment at Eva Carlston included weekly family therapy via Skype. She also wrote many letters to her parents and made several phone calls a week.

Classmates, teachers and therapists from Eva Carlston are expected to attend the Saturday memorial for Charlotte in Los Olivos.

Charlotte had said the people she met at the Utah facility were her heroes, but Teresa has learned they were just as inspired by Charlotte.

“She really touched a lot of people there,” Teresa said.

A “can-do kid,” Charlotte taught herself to play the piano and other musical instruments. She loved theater, whether it was singing, dancing or costumes and had a knack for mimicry. She loved animals and had a soft spot for pit bulls, a breed she felt was maligned and mistreated.

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