I know why Sandyhook, Charleston, and about a dozen other mass shootings happened. It wasn't guns, or gun control or anything like that. It was mental illness and drug abuse and it could have been stopped. Ok, well maybe I don't know the intimate details of why a white man goes ballistic killing men, women and kids-but I do know why it happened.  I know it because I lived it.

 

In late 2014, I went to live with my Uncle in Maryland. For months he begged me for my assistance as he said his health was failing, he had a family of renters living in his home and he was being robbed, and he needed me to help him get to doctors appointments, drive him to the store and help clean up my family home. I went to him with great hope to help him begin a new life and in the offing, begin a new life for myself.

 

For those three weeks I answered the call. I would drive him to the store daily, fix him meals, help him open the stacks of mail that had piled up and clean the house of a pile of cigarette stained filth in every room. We settled into a ritual where I would work on the house til early afternoon tearing out carpets, throwing out garbage and washing everything with bleach. Then when the clock struck 2, he would come up from his basement apartment where he lived and run his errands for the day, grab a bite to eat and otherwise try and coax him back to the land of living.

 

His condition was quite deplorable. His bed was covered with piles of garbage, the rafters of the basement hung heavy with nicotine stained cobwebs and rat feces, black mold covered the walls and his bathroom shower served as  a kitchen, a hamper and toilet. He hadn't showered in weeks, worn the same clothes he slept in for weeks on end and needed a haircut badly. He also had a very paranoid outlook and told me of a cash of weapons he had hidden throughout his room and that he wanted to kill himself. In short, he was a mess and it was my hope to help.

 

In the first three weeks I had managed to get him to buy new clothes, take a shower, go to the barber and put on 5 pounds of weight. I also got to know more about his medical conditions and meet his doctors to find out truly what his justification was to live such a deplorable lifestyle.

 

Without revealing any medical secrets, he suffers from an intestinal condition and has complained of its debilitating effects for the better part of a decade. In that time, he has also complained of a constant pain, leg cramps, vertigo, low blood iron, a hyaital hernia and low testosterone. He quit drinking,  went cold turkey from an addiction to Oxycontin, and said he was eating healthy for the first time in life. But it was his mental state I could not understand.

 

His biggest problem was his doctors, or so it seemed,  as they were not talking to one another. One would give him a prescription for one pill, while the other would also give him a prescription for the same pill. And he took a pile of over the counter drugs daily as well. It became clear that his biggest problem was not his colon, but his pill seeking behavior. He was gaming the system and the doctors he visited either turned a blind eye or were unaware of his behavior. I didn't know, how could they?

 

It became clear to me though that the problem was much bigger than anything I could fix when Thanksgiving came around.

 

Stepping from under the cape at the barbershop a couple days before Thanksgiving, I saw a man I used to recognize. His smile was evident, his color was good, his affect was alert and his energy was strong.  Having made such progress, I thought he might enjoy a holiday at my home with my Mom and I and I invited him to Thanksgiving.

 

We set out the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I piled a collection of trash bags he used for luggage into my car. He got into the car wearing sunglasses and a scarf, looking almost fashionable despite the fact that I couldn't convince him to shower before we hit the road, but I figured he would shower when I got him to my clean bathroom at my Mom's home, so I didn't make a big deal of it. I just cracked the windows and sprayed a little Febreeze.

 

We stopped for breakfast and he ate well. We wandered our way north up the Jersey turnpike with a million other cars heading home for the holiday. We made good time, conversing along the way, laughing about his exploits as a younger man and planning a weekend of fun and food at my house. I felt the man I once knew was back and was so very happy to have him as my travel partner.

 

That was until we reached the Connecticut line. He decided to check his phone when we saw the Welcome to Connecticut sign and could not find it. He began to panic

 

When we got to my home, my Mom made his favorite for his birthday dinner, sauerbraten. We opened gifts, talked til late in the evening and otherwise had a great night. Then he went into his room. 

 

Sometime after Midnight, things went awry. He hadn't slept well, and started taking any and all of two shopping bags filled with prescriptions. And then the demons came to call. 

 

When I awoke to see him the next morning, he was talking of death and paranoia and fear. He wasn't the man I sent to bed, and a new man was there, terrorizing my 65-year old mother. She was in tears and he terrified her by what he was saying, chiefly, that he planned to have me killed by a gang of fierce motorcycle brutes who killed at his behest. 

 

That was the start of my experience with mental illness and how for so many more months after I would wake to find Jekyll or Hyde living with me. In truth I began writing this article in 2014 and now some 18 months later, my life is now just starting to return to normal. 

 

In the days following the Thanksgiving massacre at my home, My uncle had a breakdown. He wrecked his car, was committed to the hospital a half dozen times and was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and Drug induced dementia.  The police seized my Uncle's weapons and the Crisis Response Network began making weekly visits to check in my Uncle, never actually seeing his living conditions as he would not allow them in the house, but checking to see if he was "normal" or not. 

 

He was finally committed involuntarily to Shepard Pratt Mental Hospital in April  2015 where I had hoped he would get meaningful treatment. Unfortunately, they held him for 10 days, stabilized his meds and sent him home to return to his drug abuse and demons. 

 

I left the house after that. I called the Department of Public Health, the police, Adult Protective Services and about a dozen other resources that should have been able to intervene on my Uncle's behalf. I was told nothing could be done to help him and the best avenue for me was to leave him alone and let him get into real trouble so that they could incarcerate him and get him off the street for good. 

 

That was their answer, send him to jail, because there were no hospitals that could help him. 

 

There is so much more to this story, the time he hit a nurse and was arrested, the two dogs he murdered by breaking their necks and poisoning them, the ex wife he wants to kill by putting poison ivy in her air conditioner and of course the Evil Doctor at the Hospital he wants to pay back. Then there is the court system and lawyers and power of attorney documents. And there is the always present Mental Illness monster who holds not just my uncle, but my entire family hostage. 

 

Mental Illness has torn apart my family. My Uncle remains as unwell and dangerous as ever, but I can't convince anyone in Maryland to deal with the big picture. And he wont voluntarily make an effort to seek treatment, and so he is allowed to wander as he will, as dangerous to himself and others as he has ever been. 

 

Maybe he is better and we have nothing to worry about? That is what the politicians would have you believe, these problems fix themselves. That is until the day, my Uncle walks into the hospital to take out his delusional retribution on one particular doctor he hates with all his being. That could be the way it goes, but I don't know. I can tell you it wont be me he kills, because I wont go anywhere near him.  When he goes in with some weapon, he secures in a less than honest way and kills a half dozen people, they will ask, "How did this happen?" And no doubt I will be called and asked, "Didn't you know your Uncle was dangerous?" And the answer is yes, I knew it and I did nothing, because I was not allowed to stop him. And now lives will be ended, families will be torn apart and another pile of bodies goes to the grave because we have no mental health care system in this country to protect us and our loves ones. 

 

Oh sure, its gonna be tough for him to get a gun, or build a bomb, they sure made it hard to do those types of things these days. But he doesn't really care how hard the paperwork is to fill out, because he wont fill out any paperwork, but will convince some poor sap to help him, because while he is crazy, he is also very charming when he wants to be and comes up with some amazing stories. 

 

I hope I am wrong and we all have nothing to worry about. But friends, I think every father, brother, son, wife or daughter who is related to a mass killer had the same hope that everything was fine. Until the day they turned on the news and saw the picture of their loved one next to a crime taped parking lot filled with cops and ambulances. 

Published by Christopher Richard