When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Hugo Clayton

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.


Hugo Clayton

In November 2003, Hugo Clayton — a 14-year-old boy from Guatemala — stabbed his adopted mother to death over a dispute about working in his adopted father’s painting business.

In November 2003, Hugo Clayton — a 14-year-old boy from Guatemala — stabbed his adopted mother from South Carolina to death.
In November 2003, Hugo Clayton — a 14-year-old boy from Guatemala — stabbed his adopted mother from South Carolina to death.

Hugo’s early childhood in Guatemala was bleak: he was an orphan and spent much of the first 7 years of his life on the streets, then 5 years in an orphanage. He suffered from “major depressive disorder, reactive attachment disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and brief reactive psychosis.” Hugo was adopted in 2002 from Guatemala by 33-year-old Debra Jean Clayton and her husband Keith, a couple living in Lexington County, South Carolina. The Clayton family were raising 8 children (5 biological, 3 adopted), all whom Debra Jean homeschooled while her husband worked. The family was religious.

James Metts, a Lexington County sheriff, reported that the teenager killed Debra Jean because “he was upset about restrictions that were imposed him…for disobeying his parents.” The restrictions were language-based: Hugo was being required by his parents “to speak only English.” His act of disobedience was refusing “to go to work in the family painting business.” Keith said the family was “an army at war with Satan.”

On the day of the murder, Hugo stabbed Debra Jean multiple times with a knife, then hid the knife under his bed. Debra Jean ultimately died from bleeding to death. A memorial service was held for her at the Calvary Chapel in Lexington.

On November 14, 2003, Hugo was charged with murder, the charge later being changed to voluntary manslaughter. In July 2005, Hugo — then 16 — pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Keith was at a loss to explain his adopted son’s actions, saying, “He was a good kid when he lived here. It’s just inexplainable.”

 View the case index here.

9 thoughts on “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Hugo Clayton

  1. Lana March 5, 2014 / 12:50 am

    It’s not hard for me to imagine a boy who experienced long-term street trauma and abuse to murder his adopted parents. What is hard for me to believe is that they demanded all that from him and was not giving him therapy (and going to therapy themselves). Admittedly assuming he was not getting that.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy March 5, 2014 / 2:39 pm

      With a lot of Fundagelicals, Therapy is a Lie of the Devil.
      (Remember “Biblical Nouthetic Counseling”?)
      And this one was a Calvary Chapel. I’ve run into Calvary Chapelites (they started near where I am right now), and can easily see them believing the above.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy March 5, 2014 / 2:42 pm

      1) His act of disobedience was refusing “to go to work in the family painting business.”
      This also fits with X-Treme Christian Homeschoolers. Family business, with 14-year-olds going to work.

      2)Keith said the family was “an army at war with Satan.”
      Then it looks like the Mom got a Friendly Fire incident.


      • Lana March 5, 2014 / 3:39 pm

        Yea I totally agree. The family sounds creepy and like the kid came there to serve them or something.


      • Headless Unicorn Guy March 10, 2014 / 1:32 pm

        …The family sounds creepy and like the kid came there to serve them or something.

        Distinct possibility. Family is not described in more detail than “religious”, but if they were Christian Patriarchy types, all the rest of the family exists only to serve the Paterfamilias. Very top-down control attitude.

        And the Calvary Chapel connection. I’ve always gotten a “bad vibe” from Calvary Chapelites; nothing I could put my finger on and say “AHA!”, but a general feeling of something just Wrong. Like they concentrate all the aspects of Fundagelicals, including all the worst aspects.


  2. Warbler March 5, 2014 / 8:06 pm

    This is like the opposite of Hana “Williams” case. Instead of the kid killing the parents, the parents kill the kid.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy March 10, 2014 / 1:34 pm

      Very similar. I wonder if the only difference between the two cases was Who Struck First.

      Or if either or both thought they were doing their Christian Project adopting a Third World kid, only realized what they were getting into after the fact, and then doubled down.


  3. Patty May 9, 2014 / 12:07 pm

    I was friends with Debi and she would contact me regularly so that I could help her practice her Spanish so that she would be able to best communicate with her adopted children. She loved her children–all of them. I find it difficult to believe that she contributed in any way to what happened here. Sure, she and her husband had to discipline their kids as all parents do, but I don’t believe that this discipline even remotely bordered on abuse. What happened to Debi and Hugo was an all around tragedy, that I believe had little to do with their educational choices. Many kids, adopted and otherwise, turn on their parents. Adolescence is a volatile time for many kids. I can only imagine how much worse it was for a child like Hugo, with his history of abuse.


  4. Adrea February 19, 2015 / 9:38 pm

    At her funeral, Keith told me that Debi considered me her friend. I remain very proud of that. She was my immediate next door neighbor for years. Her death was an absolute tragedy.
    Here is what I can assure you:
    Debi was never abusive.
    Hugo was extremely troubled.
    Debi was hands down the best homeschooling parent I have ever met. I am not an advocate for homeschooling, but in my profession, I meet a lot of parents who home school.
    Many adoption agencies simply do not educate prospective adoptive parents about what to expect and prepare for.
    Debi always, always meant well and she was kind and generous.
    Hugo was rebelling, but not because he sometimes worked with Keith and with his adopted 14-year old brother. I believe that Hugo was actually given a choice to stay at home (while all but his youngest sister went to play at friend’s house) OR go to work with Keith. Clearly, he chose to stay home.
    Sadly, ironically, the Clayton’s were originally going to adopt two girls, but Keith felt a connection with Hugo and could not leave him in the orphanage. Keith believed in giving people second chances.
    I personally will not attend a Calvery Chapel and I’m just as skeptical as the next guy about evangelical book burners, but the brokenness in Hugo was already present when he was brought into the family. And he broke every single one of them against his sharp edges.


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