Schizophrenic. Killer. My Cousin.
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Anyway, Mark didn't think three days of lockdown in a mental facility would make his son less unstable. He was looking for a meaningful treatment plan, not to rustle Houston through emergency services. "All those kids get shot by the police," he told Marilyn. "Just let me handle it."
So Mark didn't call the police, and Houston didn't get any additional help. Ten days before all the really bad things happened, Annette came out to visit from Ohio. "Honey," she said to her nephew, "something's going on with you, babe. Either something's happened to you, or you're not sharing something. I'm really, really worried that something's going on." She says he turned his head and looked at her eerily and said, "Maybe I'll tell you about it sometime." She says, "It didn't even sound like him."
He did tell her about it, later. He told her he'd been having delusions, something about telepathic communications and aliens and wireless circuits. Something about his mom and dad—who'd been divorced for a long time—and teenage sister, Savannah, being in an incestuous sex ring. Something about an invisible friend, Devon, and also that he'd been cutting himself to exorcise the evil, and that Mark was poisoning him with lead and was the source of the evil. He did tell Annette, but only after it was too late, after he came home from the gym late one November night in 2011 and stabbed his father 60 times, with four different knives. When Savannah came downstairs and called 911, it appeared he was trying to behead him.
"What the FUCK?" my Aunt Annette exclaimed around the one-year anniversary of her brother's death. "HOUSTON, what the FUCK?" But, she told me, the fact that what Houston did was "so heinous" didn't mean he wasn't a victim, too. "There was no facility, no support. There was nowhere to take him; there was nothing to do but call the police."
"There's been no place to put my anger," she said about losing Mark. "Because I love this child. I know how sick he is. I was there at his birth." And then she asked me to do the talking for a while, because she couldn't talk anymore because she was sobbing.
Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey calls a crime like Houston's "a predictable tragedy." That's what he has also called the Gabrielle Giffords shooting; he says the same thing about the Virginia Tech massacre, the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, and dozens of other recent homicides, some of them famous mass killings or subway platform shovings, but many of them less publicized. Ten percent of US homicides, he estimates based on an analysis of the relevant studies, are committed by the untreated severely mentally ill—like my schizophrenic cousin. And, he says: "I'm thinking that's a conservative estimate."
Saying that the severely mentally ill are disproportionately responsible for homicides has made Torrey, author of The Insanity Offense and the forthcoming American Psychosis, unpopular in some circles. "[My critics'] argument is you can't talk about these things because it causes stigma," he says. In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, some mental-illness advocates insisted that even if Adam Lanza had Asperger's or any mental-health issues, it would be totally inappropriate to cite that as a factor in his actions. But other administrators and caretakers think it's vital to bring up. "We have to think about mental-health care in a public health framework," says Dee Roth, who is on the National Advisory Council of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). "Public health measures solved rickets, cholera, people dying when they're 30." But when it comes to mental illness, she says, "we're not treating the sick people." And while the details of Lanza's diagnosis or any attempts to treat it remain unconfirmed, what is known, as Torrey pointed out in a piece he coauthored in theWall Street Journal, is that Connecticut is "among the worst states to seek such treatment. It has among the weakest involuntary treatment laws and is one of only six states that doesn't have a law permitting court-ordered 'assisted outpatient treatment,'" which, Torrey notes, "has been shown to decrease re-hospitalizations, incarcerations and, most importantly, episodes of violence among severely mentally ill individuals." Although even Torrey, who founded the Treatment Advocacy Center, an organization that pushes for fewer restrictions on involuntary commitment, admits that such measures would hardly plug all the holes in our mental-health-care system.