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How a Paranoid Schizophrenic Got a Gun -- And Why He Is a Victim, Too

A deeper look at Peter Jourdan's life reveals the complicated interplay between mental illness, criminality and guns.

Brooklyn resident Michael Jourdan’s telephone rang around 1:30am last Friday morning. The caller asked if he was Peter Jourdan’s father; the man had found Jourdan’s phone and wanted to return it.

Michael Jourdan wasn’t surprised. How many times would his son lose his phone, he wondered. Peter, a 37-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic, could never keep track of the cell phones his father bought him. He invited the caller to come by.

Twenty minutes later, Michael Jourdan opened the door to four men, who flashed police badges and began interrogating him about his son. What was he like? Habits? Criminal record? It was minutes before Michael Jourdan got in his own repeated question: Was something wrong with his son? Finally, one of the detectives brusquely informed him that his son, Peter, was dead.

Sometime between December’s Newtown tragedy, when 20 schoolchildren and six staff members were gunned down at their elementary school, and Saturday’s Aurora shooting, the second mass murder in this small Denver suburb in nearly six months, Peter Jourdan — a paranoid schizophrenic with a criminal record associated with his illness — got his hands on a gun. According to the NYPD, he allegedly used fired a handful of shots at undercover police officers, who in turn, shot him seven times, killing him. If the statistics included people killed by police,  Jourdan would be nearly the 500th victim of gun violence since Newtown. A deeper look at his life reveals the complicated interplay between mental illness, criminality and gun control in the United States.

Jourdan was 19 when he changed. An average Brooklyn teenager, he listened to hip-hop and boxed at Gleason’s gym; he smoked and drank; he loved to draw cartoon sketches. But just before he turned 20, he confessed to his father that he felt like someone was following him; that someone was after him. His paranoia worsened over the next year. He began drawing the apartment’s shades tight. Voices whispered in his ear. His father, whose sister also suffers from mental illness, knew something was wrong and began bringing him to hospitals. But it wasn’t until Jourdan attacked a neighbor who had complained about noise did the teenager receive his diagnosis — which was doled out along with a prison sentence for assault.

With his new classification as a paranoid-schizophrenic, Jourdan headed to Riker’s Island. He was soon transferred to Sing Sing, where he spent a month in solitary confinement.

“That really screwed him up,” said Michael Jourdan.

When he came out, everyone in the family noticed the difference. Peter would stick out his tongue and shield his face from other people’s gazes. He developed a facial twitch and refused to make eye contact with anyone, including his younger sister, Natalie, who was closest to Peter. Worst of all, he refused to take his medication.

Peter Jourdan began a cycle of incarceration and hospitalizations. He wasn’t aggressive, but he was deeply afraid of other people and could be violent if he felt threatened. When not in prison, he didn’t want to live with his family or take his medication. The rest of the Jourdans were at a loss; doctors refused to medicate or commit the man against his will. His father tried deception — crushing up his son’s medication and mixing it in with his food. The night Peter Jourdan realized the trick, he induced vomiting and then stopped eating anything that didn’t come from a can. Finally, Jourdan disappeared.

Seven years later, the family received an incoherent letter from Jourdan postmarked Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles. It was just in time; his father, distraught over the disappearance of his son, had hired a private investigator who promised to find Jourdan “dead or alive.” But alive he was, and forced to take his medicine during his incarceration, he was clearer-headed than ever. At the end of his sentence, Natalie went out to fly him home.

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