CHICAGO — A 16-year-old boy with Down syndrome and autism who was killed when he fell down the trash chute of his Chicago high-rise was remembered by neighbors for his friendly smile and by officials with Special Olympics for his grit and determination.
Charlie Manley was “an inspiration to all who knew him,” said Bart Conner, a gymnast who won two gold medals in the 1984 Olympics and is vice chairman of the Special Olympics board of directors, in a statement.
Investigators on Tuesday were trying to determine how Manley fell 46 stories down the narrow chute inside the 48-story building in the 1500 block of North Astor Street. His body was found just after 11 p.m. Monday in a trash compactor after his parents reported him missing from their home on the 46th floor, police said.
An autopsy found that he died of multiple injuries from the fall, and his death was ruled an accident, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Manley’s father could not be reached for comment. His father, John, a private investor, is a former member of Special Olympics International’s board of directors and has donated to the organization’s international programs and its programs in Illinois, officials said.
“I have never met, in any situation, two parents more devoted, more dedicated to improving the quality of life for a child than John and Mary Manley have been,” said Marshall M. Bouton, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, where John Manley is a vice chairman of the board.
“They showered him with love and attention and support, as did his (brother and sister),” Bouton said. “It is just a tremendously sad and tragic event.”
Charlie Manley trained privately with a gymnastics coach who worked with Special Olympics athletes but did not compete in Special Olympics events, according to Special Olympics Illinois spokeswoman Barbara DiGuido. Nonetheless his family was well known in the program.
Timothy Shriver, the president and chief executive officer of Special Olympics, wrote in a 2004 newspaper column that Charlie Manley, then 8 years old, was “determined to beat a life of low expectations, doing his regular gymnastics training routine of 50 chin-ups, interrupted only by his huge smiles.”
Manley also left a lasting impression on neighbors in his building, several of whom said he was well-liked for his outgoing and friendly personality.
“We’re all shocked,” said a woman who said she has worked for a family in the building for about 20 years. “He was such a sweetheart. He touched everyone because he was so sweet.”
The woman, who declined to give her name, said that the access doors to the building’s trash chute are about 2 feet by 2 feet, demonstrating with her hands.
The city’s building code requires that “the minimum inside dimensions” of trash and laundry chutes must be 18 inches. The chutes also must be protected with self-closing doors that can prevent the spread of fire for at least 90 minutes.
A spokeswoman for the city’s Buildings Department declined to comment Tuesday on the incident or the specifications of the building’s trash chute because police are still investigating.
Several fire safety experts said that preventing the spread of fire through garbage chutes is the primary safety concern when designing the systems because instances of people falling down the chutes are rare.