The tragedy in Newtown, and other recent shootings such as at the Batman theater, the shooting involving Congresswoman Giffords, and the mass shooting in Norway have all involved individuals with severe mental illnesses. All deeply disturbed individuals, whose corrupted minds lead them down a horrible path of destruction. There must be a way to address this.
This incident also brought to mind the killing by Mario Lopez in Cape Coral. The killing happened in 2002, before I moved to Florida, but the trial and retrials occurred during my practice here. Lopez was accused of stabbing his close friend 145 times. He snapped. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and committed to a mental institution until he’s cured, which will probably never happen. There are echoes of that case again with the patricide that recently ocurred in Cape Coral: the young man recently ran away from the mental health crisis center. There must be a way to keep this from going so far.
It appears that often the only way to get help is to wait until somebody enters the criminal system, and only then after the most serious of charges. Frequently, the criminal system ends in a cycle of incarceration followed by brief freedom without treatment, only to offend again. Local crazy person Victor Casiano was only out of custody after his last jail stint for a few days before he was confronted by an officer, started an altercation, was rearrested, and got sentenced to 3 more years. The man walks around yelling at inanimate objects. Everybody in town knows he’s crazy, yet the cycle continues to turn. There must be a better solution than the revolving-door criminal justice system.
Getting help can be the hardest thing. Unless your family is rich, your options are limited. I personally had a client who could not control her son. The facts were eerily similar to the “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” essay that has circulated the internet lately. She could not afford to commit him to a private facility. The child was so disturbed that it was not safe for him to live in the family home, and the family made the difficult decision to give him up. Only in the custody of the state would he be safely housed and given counseling… at least until he turns 18. There must be help available for parents.
There must be a better way. We must prioritize mental health, both long-term and preventative treatment, as a matter of national security. Far more Americans are killed by sick people, other Americans who suffer from mental illness, than are killed by terrorists. Yet, our mental hospitals remain shuttered, and outpatient options remain inadequate to deal with the breadth of mental illness in Florida and across the country. The system is failing, and we as a society are failing in our inability to help those sick individuals who desperately need the help. It is a matter of protection and safety not just for those who are affected by mental illness, but for everyone in society who might be touched by their actions. There must a serious movement to establish a system to work with the mentally ill. There must be action to prevent the next Newtown.