Becky Says...

June 2004

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June 13

On a January Thursday in 1995, a law student named Wendell Williamson went on a shooting spree. He chose to do this in the main business district of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When he was finished, two people were dead and one other was injured. The whole town was stunned.

I remember it rather well. I was in the area that day, which was during the time Mother was in the nursing home back in Gaston County. I had planned to go into the downtown area later that afternoon, but was watching television for a bit. I remember the news reports interrupting the programs. I remember being grateful that I had not already headed into town.

Wendell Williamson was subsequently tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Since he had a prior diagnosis of record as paranoid schizophrenic, the verdict wasn't really surprising. He has been confined to one or the other of the state's mental hospitals ever since, much of the time to Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh.

Ah, but the story does not end there. Wendell filed a lawsuit against his prior psychiatrist, claiming all sorts of malpractice. The claims stemmed from the time when Wendell's care under that doctor came to an end. Although I personally happen to believe the doctor's side of it, the jury thought Wendell had proved his claim and awarded him a large amount of money. I can't find follow-up information on an appeal to that verdict.*

That verdict, however, has led to a lot of discussion in psychiatric circles about dismissing patients from care.

Wendell is on my mind because the next chapter in his story was also the next play in the drama series of this past Thursday. Late Thursday night, the staff at the hospital in Raleigh realized that Wendell wasn't where he was supposed to be. A search of the premises showed that he was gone, so the Raleigh police were called, and another manhunt began. I happened to be up fairly early Friday morning, and heard about the story then.

The hunt ended when Wendell turned himself in to the authorities. He had managed to get seven miles away from the hospital, and was at a boat ramp on a local lake. He is now back at the hospital, and an investigation into the escape continues.

And I'm staying tuned for the next episode of the Wendell show, coming to a news broadcast near me whenever the time is right.

*Edited to add that Wendy sent this link, which gives the details of the appeal. The appeal by the psychiatrist was successful. Thanks, Wendy!

Text copyright 2000-2004 Becky