The gunmen involved in many of the mass shootings in the US in recent years, including the one in the gurdwara incident here, displayed clear signs of psychotic behaviour, and had they been treated, the disasters might have been avoided, experts say.
Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist, who killed six Sikh worshippers before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on August 5, was a heavy drinker who was so unstable after his girlfriend broke up with him years earlier that his friends feared he had committed suicide.
The psychiatrist treating James Holmes, the man who killed 12 people in a shooting last month at the premiere of a Batman movie in Colorado, recently revealed she was so worried Holmes might do something violent that she contacted police at the University of Colorado, where Holmes had studied.
Jared Loughner, who pleaded guilty last week to killing six and wounding 14 others at a Tucson shopping centre in January 2011, was expelled from his community college until he could provide proof that he was in psychiatric treatment. Seung-Hu Cho, who gunned down 32 students and professors at Virginia Tech before killing himself in 2007, had been declared an imminent danger and was ordered by a judge to undergo psychiatric care.
Each of the gunmen showed clear signs of psychotic behaviour, and had they been treated, the disasters might have been avoided, experts told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We can't afford to keep looking the other way," said Jon Lehrmann, a psychiatrist at Veterans Affairs in Milwaukee and acting chair of the psychiatry department at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Lehrmann said real reform and improvement would not come until society eliminated the stigma of mental illness and encouraged people to come forward to get treatment. Mental health care providers have a harder time getting insurance companies to reimburse them for services than other doctors, Lehrmann said.
Jennifer Dunn, Page's downstairs neighbour for the two weeks before the shooting, said if one mental health professional had taken the time to examine the 40-year-old ex-US armyman, "a gazillion red flags would have gone off". Dunn, a psychiatric nurse, said she was concerned about Page's mental well-being. Dunn described Page as "creepy" and said his bizarre behaviour scared her 10-year-old daughter.
"He was definitely sick," she was quoted as saying by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Christopher Robillard, who served with Page at Fort Bragg from 1995 to 1998, said he, too, had worried about Page's mental instability but covered up for him, a decision, he says, he now deeply regrets. "I wish now that we would have done more," he said.
Dunn was angry to think of how many opportunities people had and missed to urge Page to get help, presuming he would even accept it. "There were huge warning signs," she said. "And the consequences of that inaction are enormous. No one spoke up or was able to step forward to help him, and just look at the devastation that followed."
At least 2,956 people have been killed in 646 mass shootings over the past 35 years, according to statistics compiled by Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox. Steven Hargarten, chairman of the emergency medicine department at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said society needed to take a long, hard look at the reasons why so many people die at the hands of mentally disturbed people wielding guns and conduct an autopsy of sorts. "As the outline of these cases unfolds, it is clear that there were multiple missed opportunities," he said. "When there is an Ebola outbreak, we do what we can to identify the contagion. We need to do the same here."
In Wisconsin, as with most states, people cannot be compelled to accept treatment for mental illness unless they are found to be incompetent by a judge. That standard was established after the case of Alberta Lessard, a 1971 federal court case brought by a West Allis schoolteacher, intended to curb abuses of patients' civil liberties, the report said.