No Good Options for Parents of Mentally Ill Children

Mourners huged in front of the IV Deli Mart, where part of the mass shooting took place on May 27, 2014.
Mourners huged in front of the IV Deli Mart, where part of the mass shooting took place on May 27, 2014. –Chris Carlson/AP photo

There has been a lot of reflection and discussion in the wake of the shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara last Friday, where 22-year-old Elliot Rodger allegedly shot and killed three people after fatally stabbing his three roommates.

The reflection has focused on gun control, violence against women, and mental health, particularly after YouTube videos and a manifesto entitled “My Twisted World’’ revealed Rodger’s apparent plans for violence and his issues with women. Rodger had also received therapy and psychiatric care.

But for parents children dealing with mental illness, there are often few options in dealing with such cases — as The Washington Post reports in a story about the parents of Blaec Lammers, a 20-year-old who struggled with mental health issues.

Then, in November 2012, Blaec Lammers's mother found a receipt for an AR-15 rifle in his blue jeans. Alarmed, she called police. Officers took him in for questioning. Blaec Lammers admitted to having homicidal thoughts and to buying two rifles with plans to shoot up a local movie theater and Wal-Mart, according to a probable-cause statement.

His parents were hailed as heroes. But today, as their son serves a 15-year prison sentence for his plot instead of getting the help they believe he needs, they are filled with doubt about their decision.


After the California shooting rampage, Lammers’s father, Bill, questioned whether his son would have ended up committing a similar crime and said he and his wife struggle with how things turned out. Bill Lammers also said the mental health care system is broken.

That sentiment has been expressed after other mass shootings, such as the ones in Newtown Conn. and Aurora, Co. In the California shooting, the parents of the suspect also faced challenges in dealing with his mental health.

Just weeks before the shootings and stabbing, officers were sent by local health officials to Rodger’s apartment after his family expressed concern about him — but Rodger was able to convince the authorities that he was not a threat, according to the Associated Press.

"He just didn't meet the criteria for any further intervention," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "He was able to make a very convincing story that there was no problem, that he wasn't going to hurt himself or anyone else."

Like many other states, California has a law intended to identify and confine dangerously unstable people before they can do harm. It allows authorities to hold people in a mental hospital for up to 72 hours for observation.

There must be evidence that a person is suicidal, intent on hurting others or unable to care for themselves in order to initiate such a hold. Though Rodger’s mother knew he posted strange videos online, police said they did not know about them until after the shooting.

It’s unclear if holding Rodger would have prevented a rampage, since in most cases people are released after the 72-hour period.

"In this case the leakage was like a sieve, there was so much stuff out there," [Rick Wall, a retired Los Angeles police captain] said. "People were hearing this, but no one was connecting the dots. No one was forwarding the information to where it could have been put together."

Law enforcement authorities dealing with such cases must also strike a balance between public safety and individual liberty and privacy.

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