Sunday, April 22, 2007

Another Tragedy of Our Mental Health System, But This Won't Get As Much Press

First, because there was only person killed, and second, because it didn't involve a gun. From the April 19, 2007 Santa Rosa (Cal.) Press-Democrat:
The family of a man who allegedly stabbed his mother to death at her Rohnert Park home wrestled Wednesday with grief and their anger at a mental health system that they say failed everyone involved.

"A broken heart and a broken system, that's what I'm feeling today," Dave Cooper said.

Cooper's mother-in-law, Jeanne Elaine Hoyt, 61, was stabbed multiple times with a sword and died Tuesday night, authorities said.

Ezra Timothy Hoyt, 33, a paranoid schizophrenic, was holding a sword when he was arrested at gunpoint in front of his mother's house as she was being treated inside, police said.

Jeanne Hoyt was rushed to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 6:44 p.m., Rohnert Park Police Lt. Jeff Taylor said.

Her son, who Cooper said was living in a group home in Santa Rosa, is being held without bail at the Sonoma County Jail, facing a charge of murder.

He was holding what is believed to be the murder weapon when police arrived at his mother's home in the Rancho Grande mobile home park on Snyder Lane. Police and fire crews were dispatched to the home at 6:09 p.m. in response to a "frantic 911 call," Taylor said.

He did not say who called 911.

The sword was a rapier, "long, slender, sharply pointed," and Hoyt dropped it at an officer's command, Taylor said.

A distraught Cooper suggested that the family's efforts to get Ezra Hoyt timely and proper help were frustrated by the mental health system.

"It's the way the social services system works -- or doesn't work," he said. "All we're told, of course, is that nothing can be done until until he becomes a threat to himself or others."

Cooper said family members had worried that Hoyt wasn't taking medication for the illness with which he'd been diagnosed about five years ago.

"He's over 18, he can't be forced to stay on his medications until something happens," Cooper said. "Well, something has happened."
This is a tragedy. Like a lot of other mental illness tragedies that I have talked about on this blog in the last several years, those who become violent are a small minority of the mentally ill (most of whom are a bigger threat to themselves than to others). But the unpredictability of a violent mentally ill person--and that they may attack people who have no idea that they are seen as targets--creates enormous fear in the general population.

Unlike what happened at Virginia Tech last Monday, no gun control law would have prevented this tragedy. But like Virginia Tech, a mental illness commitment law that wasn't quite so far out on the civil libertarian extreme might well have prevented this tragedy.

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