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January 13, 2006



2. CELEBRATING A SISTER'S MEMORY, ON TAPE - National Public Radio, January 6,

January 3, 2006

4. SUICIDE ISN'T SELFISH, BUT SYMPTOM OF ILLNESS - Indianapolis Star, January 3,

5. FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS - Los Angeles Times, December 24, 200


1. GRASS VALLEY UNION (CA), January 10, 2006

[Editor’s Note: Great champions of people lost to illnesses like schizophrenia
or bipolar disorder are almost always forged by personal experience. Within the
mental health field impassioned advocates tend to arise from those affected by a
severe mental illness or those who have seen, and lived, the struggles of an
afflicted loved one. In rare instances, however, the fire for treatment comes
all at once from a cataclysmic encounter with the most tragic possible results
of an untreated severe psychiatric disorder.

For Amanda and Nick Wilcox, their zeal for treatment is fueled by the loss of
their daughter, Laura, to the unmedicated paranoid schizophrenia of another.]


By Dave Moller, Senior staff writer

Five years after their first born was fatally shot on Jan. 10, 2001, Amanda and
Nick Wilcox are still coming to grips with the violent act that took their
daughter and the damage it has done to their family.

“The only justice I could have was Laura back, and I can’t have that,” Amanda

Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old who was running for student body president at
Haverford College in Pennsylvania, was home visiting on Christmas break that
day. Having served as a summer intern at Nevada County’s Behavioral Health
Department, she was filling in for a sick employee when Scott Thorpe walked
through the front door and started shooting.

Four of his shots found Laura.

“My life felt like it was stripped of meaning because I was a mother,” said
Amanda Wilcox, whose only daughter was the first victim in a shooting spree that
left three dead, three seriously wounded and an entire community on edge.

“I had to focus on other things.”

At the top of that list were her two sons, though Amanda said losing her
daughter sometimes left her afraid to love the boys for fear of losing them,

“Caleb is older than his sister; she was 19,” Amanda said. “There are milestones
like that which put a lump in your throat … I still have days where I don’t stop
crying. (18-year-old) Nathan feels like he was robbed of part of his childhood.”

The families of each of the victims of Jan. 10, 2001 — the day that mental
health patient Scott Thorpe changed the course of their lives — have done their
best to focus on the future. For Amanda and Nick, that has meant being advocates
for change.

“It’s a thin scab; it doesn’t heal easily,” said Nick of losing his daughter.
“It’s been hard, it’s been very hard … We’re good in public, but there are tough
times and tough days.”

While there have been plenty of hard days, healing has also come to the family
in the form of their advocacy against gun violence and the death penalty.
Although they feel Scott Thorpe is rightly incarcerated for life, the Wilcoxes
don’t condone capital punishment.

“We see the death penalty as institutional rage and retribution,” Nick said.
“But our underlying theme is nonviolence.

“The issue picked us. Two years before Laura’s murder, she did a paper on (gun
violence) when she was a junior at (Nevada Union High School).”

“I had always been disturbed by firearm violence anyway,” Amanda said. “We grew
up as Quakers, and one of the basic tenants was nonviolence. Because of our
background, we naturally leaned on that.”

Their advocacy work was kicked into high gear just three weeks after the tragic
shootings, when a gun show was held at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. The
Wilcoxes protested the event as being a possible purveyor to gun violence.

“It was a slap in the face, knowing that Scott Thorpe had been an attendee (of
past shows),” Nick said.

“It was so offensive after what had happened,” Amanda added.

At the show, Nick said, a man approached him to say that had his daughter had a
gun the day she was killed, she would still be alive. Incredulous, Nick took the
comment in a silent, steeled resolve.

The promoter and vendor of the gun show were later arrested for selling illegal
firearms to State Department of Justice agents and were convicted on a
misdemeanor firearms charge. One such gun show followed soon after, but none
have been held locally since, the couple said.

“It made our point,” Amanda said. “We made it too uncomfortable for them and
Nevada County. The promoters did it to themselves.”

Amanda said that the gun-show incident and some law-abiding gun owners did,
however, teach her some new respect for gun owners.

“I’ve learned that my neighbor can have a gun,” she said. “Just because I don’t
like it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have one.”

Prior to the shooting, Amanda had donated money to the Brady gun control
campaign and the Million Moms March in May of 2000. Now the Wilcoxes find
themselves advocating for much more and with much louder voices.

“We’re effective because of what happened and because we’re not paid,” Nick
said. “We’ve discovered that every legislative door is unlocked.”

One door the couple have walked through belonged to former Assemblywoman Helen
Thompson of Davis. Thompson had put a bill before the legislature in 2001 that
would allow involuntary treatment of mental illness patients if they were a
threat to themselves, or to others, or if they refused treatment after a mental
illness diagnosis.

That bill failed to garner enough support to pass, but it was resurrected into
what is now known as “Laura’s Law” and was passed in 2002. The bill, however,
lacked funding and had conflicting language that could make it difficult to

The Wilcoxes understand that the provision allowing mental health patients to be
detained involuntarily is highly controversial. Involuntary institutionalization
is what led then Gov. Ronald Reagan to revamp the mental health system in the

“But the great promise was never fulfilled to give care in community settings;
it never happened,” Nick said. “There is a strong tendency to deny involuntary
commitment due to cost. But we learned during the trial that Thorpe was the most
mentally ill person the psychiatrists had ever interviewed.”

They also learned that Thorpe had a cache of unregistered weapons, was stalking
a woman at the county’s Behavioral Health Department, and had stopped taking his
medication at the time of the shootings.

It is with no small irony that they learned that soon after Thorpe was put in a
state mental institution for life, he was taking his medication again and doing
much better because of it.

The Laura’s Law experience eventually led the Wilcoxes to the 2004 ballot
initiative Prop. 63, the Mental Health Services Act, which will be used for new
measures for patients across the state. How Laura’s Law will come into effect
with the Prop. 63 funds is still unknown, but the county agreed in its
settlement of a lawsuit with the Wilcoxes to implement it when new funding
becomes available.

“We saw Prop. 63 as something to make a lasting difference, so we donated
$15,000 (to the cause from the $60,000 they were awarded in the settlement.),”
Nick said.

“We’re not experts on mental illness,” Amanda said, “but we helped raise

They are now focused on stopping the use of the death penalty in America and
work closely with a group known as Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.
This spring, they will testify for a bill asking the state Legislature to
suspend the death penalty until a full examination of its use is completed.

“Whether you’re for or against (the death penalty), it’s unconscionable to
execute innocent victims,” Nick said. “To apply it along social and racial lines
is wrong, even if you support it.”

Part of that belief was bolstered when the Wilcoxes realized that Thorpe did not
target their daughter. They understand that his illness led to Laura’s death and
the eventual apology from the county for not handling it correctly. They also
understand that lawyers may have precluded any official apology; but it still

“Victims often just want to hear ‘I’m sorry,’” Amanda said.

“It took a lawsuit and three years to get it,” Nick said. “I still have a lot of
residual anger over how we were treated by Nevada County.”

At the same time, Amanda said, they are focused on the future.

“Scott Thorpe does not have a hold on us.”


2. NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, January 6, 2006

[Editor’s Note: Perhaps the prototype for people who turn grief into the
salvation of others is the Webdale family. Seven years ago, Kendra Webdale was
killed by a man with untreated schizophrenia. That tragic story is well known,
as it was the final straw in getting New York to finally pass an assisted
outpatient treatment law, aptly named “Kendra’s Law.”

This week, NPR presented stirring and saddening memories of Kendra’s sister,
Kim, who strongly endeavored for the law that brought life-stabilizing treatment
to thousands in New York. The interview of Kim Webdale is available at: ]


Seven years ago, a young woman named Kendra Webdale was killed when a mentally
ill man pushed her in front of an oncoming New York City subway train. She died
on Jan. 3, 1999.

The case is still in the news, still in the courts, and still very much on the
minds of family members.

Webdale's sister, Kim Emerson, visited one of the Story Corps recording booths
with a friend to recall her sister -- and a cherished reminder of her life.

The Webdale case led to the creation of a new law in New York State -- called
Kendra's Law -- meant to ensure that mentally ill people take the medication
they need.


3. THE NEW YORK POST, January 3, 2006

[Editor’s Note: The subject of every story that we are interviewed for begs for
responses on the need for earlier interventions, assisted outpatient treatment,
or more hospital beds. Some call for us to present more general themes, as Mary
Zdanowicz offers below by reinforcing the understanding that severe mental
illness is treatable.]


By Bill Sanderson and Mark Bulliet

Queens Village has more state-funded housing for the mentally ill than anyplace
else in the city, a Post investigation reveals.

Other neighborhoods with high populations of mentally ill include the Times
Square area, College Point, Queens, the central Rockaways in Queens, and Co-op
City in The Bronx, an analysis of data from the state Office of Mental Health

But Queens Village - in the shadow of the Creedmoor psychiatric hospital - has
20 state-supported community beds for mentally ill people per every 1,000
residents, 2 1/2 more than Times Square's eight beds per 1,000. Residents and
business owners in Queens Village say they accept the sometimes odd behavior of
their mentally ill neighbors.

"One time, I was cutting a guy's hair, and boom, in the middle of the haircut,
he rips off the cape and leaves," said Ruben Borukhof, a barber on Hillside

"The next morning, he was waiting for me. He said, 'I'm sorry, I didn't take my
medication, and I went off.' "

The unfinished haircut had left the man's hair "lopsided and crazy," Borukhof
recounted. "I said, 'Are we going to finish the haircut, or are you going to
walk around like that?' "

Some mentally ill people need a few minutes longer than other people to phone in
their orders at Szechuan Kitchen, said Susan Zheng, one of the restaurant's
owners. But it's not a problem. "Mostly, they are good, quiet people," Zheng

Over the last few decades, as state hospitals have shrunk, more mentally ill
people moved to houses and apartments. The change has challenged state
government to improve community services for the mentally ill, who studies show
can be violent if they are not being properly treated.

Despite some problems - such as the case of a mentally ill man accused of
savagely stabbing an infant in Washington Heights last September - advocates say
New York has generally done a good job providing community services.

"The public understands that when people are in treatment for mental illness,
they generally do very well," said Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the
Treatment Advocacy Center, a Washington-based group.

Zdanowicz praised a state law passed after the 1999 attack on Kendra Webdale,
who was killed by a mentally ill man. Kendra's Law requires courts to order
treatment for mentally ill people who don't want it.


4. INDIANAPOLIS STAR, January 3, 2006

[Editor’s Note: Suicide is a selfish act? Maybe it can be taken that way from
examining its consequences but not, more often than not, after appreciating its

Letter to the Editor


Pierre Atlas writes effectively about the terrible tragedy related to the
suicides of youth ("Prominent suicide raises awareness of youth at risk," Dec.

I take special exception to one paragraph in which he describes suicide as an
ultimately selfish act against oneself, friends and family. Suicide is a tragic
symptom of several illnesses such as depression, panic disorder, bipolar
disorder (manic-depressive disorder), schizophrenia and others. Most people with
these illnesses do not take their own lives, but the incidence is significantly
higher than in the general population.

These illnesses are as real as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Their
symptoms are as physical as headache, chest pain, bone pain and unbearable
nausea. Sometimes the effects of these illnesses on the brain create a different
reality that we are ill prepared to understand. In our sorrow, frustration and
confusion we look for someone to blame. Death from the consequences of illness,
including suicide, is not attributable to anyone's selfishness. Let us join in
community to support each other in solving the problem rather than in assigning

Joan Esterline Lafuze, Ph.D.



5. LOS ANGELES TIMES, December 24, 2005

[Editor’s Note: All those looking for why so many advocates strive for coherent
treatment systems and rational treatment laws, need look no farther than the
life of Marina Lynn Brandt.]


Marina Brandt Grew Up In Westchester And Went To UCLA.
Her Descent Into Mental Illness Ended In Death On L.A.'S Skid Row.

By Cara Mia DiMassa, Times Staff Writer

On a sunny May afternoon last year, Marina Lynn Brandt hobbled up to the
cinder-block entrance of the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles' skid
row, asking for a bed.

She was thin and pale, her breathing heavy. Her only form of identification was
a plastic hospital band on her right wrist.

Brandt told workers behind the glass contact window that she had been brought to
the mission's San Julian Street entrance by a hospital. One worker, Mary
Witherspoon, said she thought Brandt looked too ill to have been discharged. An
intake clerk began processing her.

Less than an hour after she arrived, Brandt, 45, collapsed on the floor near the
front door. Paramedics tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead that
evening. The coroner later determined she had died of pneumonia.

"It was kind of devastating," Witherspoon said. "I never had anybody that died
like that. You know so little about them."

Although local hospitals have denied dumping ill patients on skid row, several
have acknowledged routinely transporting medically stable patients there if they
have nowhere else to go. They have defended the practice, saying the area has
the city's greatest concentration of social service agencies.

But as Brandt's story makes clear, some of the patients taken to skid row need
more than social services.

The death made little news at the time, because it was a sadly routine
occurrence on skid row. Like many who call the downtown streets home, Brandt was
mentally ill, with a long history of drug use and the severe health problems
that often accompany it. She had logged years on the streets of Southern
California and been in and out of health facilities across the region.

But a closer look at Brandt's story reveals how a patchwork system of mental
health care and medical services for the indigent often fails some of society's
most desperate, virtually ensuring deaths like hers.

Traditional clinics and hospitals frequently are not equipped to deal with
mental illness. Mental hospitals don't necessarily have facilities to handle
acute physical illness. At the end of her life, Brandt needed both.

"The health system does not work very well for such people," said Marvin
Southard, director of the county Department of Mental Health.

Marina Lynn Brandt grew up in a spacious ranch-style home in Westchester, with a
badminton court and a pool in the backyard, the fourth of five children born to
an aerospace engineer and his wife.

Brandt's father, Ralph, could be loving and generous, said Laura Brandt, the
youngest of the Brandt children. But he also suffered from bipolar illness, and
his behavior could quickly turn frightening.

Sometimes, he set up a lawn chair in a busy intersection near their house,
plunked down on it and opened a beer. Cars would have to swerve to avoid him —
and the police would eventually take him home.

"When he was stabilized, on his meds, it was great," Laura said. "When the
medication wasn't working or it was time to get a dose adjustment, wow. It could
be pretty scary."

Marina earned A's in high school and went to UCLA to study architectural
drafting. But early in her freshman year, she began hearing voices while on
campus. To her family, she seemed forgetful, distracted. They wrote off what
they considered inconsiderate behavior as teenage moodiness.

Soon, though, they realized the problem was more severe. Marina tried to commit
suicide by swallowing pills prescribed for her father. She wandered off for
longer and longer periods.

On one occasion, a family-organized search party found her in downtown Los
Angeles after a long absence. Her hair was matted. She was beaten and bruised.
Her fingers had been burned.

Brandt dropped out of UCLA after the winter quarter of her freshman year. She
was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, a chronic and disabling mental

Downward Spiral

As the disease took hold, Brandt's behavior grew more and more bizarre. She
giggled in public, flirted with strangers who often had no idea of the depths of
her illness. She was easy prey for sexual abuse.

She also became violent, lashing out at those around her.

Laura, who was 10 years younger than her sister, said Brandt would often get a
crazed look in her eyes as the mania set in: "Her eyes would be dilated, glazed
over. The adrenaline was pumping. She looked like a caged animal."

Brandt got that look once at a family gathering just before she tried to choke
her mother. It took three people to pin her down until authorities could arrive
to take her in for psychiatric care.

She got that look again one evening, and her mother and sister had to flee the
house to escape her rage. They returned to find the home ablaze with lights, the
stereo blasting.

"I pretty much tiptoed" in, Laura remembered. "But she saw me — she was still
awake, and she came after me with two kitchen knives."

In the first few years of Brandt's illness, she racked up a string of
hospitalizations, for both psychiatric and physical ills, as well as multiple
arrests. By the end of 1983, it was clear she could no longer care for herself.
She was put under a conservatorship, with the Los Angeles County public
guardian's office acting as conservator.

In a 1984 court filing, the deputy public guardian assigned to her case, Vaishie
Lazaire, described the difficulty of overseeing Brandt's care.

"She wanders the streets ingesting any and all drugs and alcohol offered her and
is unable to obtain adequate food or shelter," Lazaire wrote. "She has been
repeatedly raped and beaten while wandering on the streets. She often refuses to
eat for long periods of time because 'voices tell her she is fat.' … Marina Lynn
remains too psychotic to make rational decisions for herself."

A Home in Pomona

In 1984, after years of struggling with his own demons, Ralph Brandt drowned
himself in the family swimming pool.

In the wake of his death, the family established a special trust to help take
care of Marina financially.

Her mother had pinched pennies for years to buy a string of houses, apartment
buildings and land around Southern California. The sale of one of those
properties, a house on Grimsby Avenue in Westchester, brought $121,000, which
was put into a trust for Marina administered by the public guardian's office.

That money, combined with a monthly disability stipend and occasional Christmas
gifts of a few hundred dollars from Brandt's mother, paid for nearly a decade of
Brandt's care, mostly at what was by then her full-time home, Landmark Medical
Center in Pomona.

In retrospect, sister Laura said, the period at Landmark was the most stable in
Brandt's adult life.

But her stay was not entirely problem-free.

In January 1985, Dr. William E. Sigurdson, Brandt's doctor, wrote that she was
"confused and delusional. She frequently gets into fights, believing that people
are talking about her. She … could become violent, with resultant injury to self
or others."

A few years later, Brandt disappeared from the facility and wound up in San Luis
Obispo; she was returned by Greyhound bus.

In January 1993, she was arrested in Glendale for public intoxication.

In 1995, the money from her father's estate ran out. Soon after, she left
Landmark. Laura Brandt said her departure baffled family members, but they
suspected that her running out of money was a factor.

Rosemary Campos Kilby, Landmark's administrator, said she couldn't comment on
the specifics of Brandt's stay. But she strongly denied any implication that a
patient would have been turned out for financial reasons.

She said that "most of the people who live here are on county funding…. If her
money had run out, it would not have meant a difference to the facility."

Regardless, life after her trust fund dried up proved far less stable for

A String of Hospitals

After Landmark, the shuffle began.

Court records show that Brandt bounced around Southern California for the next
nine years. She was in and out of mental hospitals, treatment facilities and
regular hospitals across the Southland, including stops in Rancho Cucamonga,
Whittier, San Gabriel, Venice and El Monte, among other places.

Family members tried to keep up with her movements but found it difficult, said
Laura Brandt: "There were so many facilities, just too many to remember.

"Sometimes, the best night's sleep I had was when she was in a locked, good
facility," she said.

The public guardian's office recorded 70 addresses for Brandt in the time she
was in its care.

Sometimes, the move from one facility to another came after Brandt got in
trouble for drug or alcohol use.

Other times, she just walked out and disappeared for days or weeks at a time,
unable or unwilling to return.

"That was a pretty common thing, where she would get lost from her own
facility," Laura said. "They moved her around so much, it would be easy for her
to forget."

In 2003, Brandt walked out of a Los Angeles facility, saying she preferred
living on the streets. Almost three weeks later, she was admitted to a
psychiatric hospital in Alhambra.

Later that year, she told workers at a Pomona board-and-care home that she was
going out to a local 99 Cent store; the next day, they reported her to police as
missing. She resurfaced a few days later at Kaiser Permanente in Hollywood.

As the years ticked by, Brandt's physical health deteriorated. Life on the
streets, between her stays in medical facilities, wore on her. She contracted
HIV. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 2001 underwent a mastectomy.
She suffered bouts of anorexia.

Brandt, who records show was 5 feet 5, weighed about 80 pounds in 2003.

The pace of her movement from one facility to another seemed to quicken late
that year, six months before her death. She was admitted to Greater El Monte
Community Hospital the first week of January 2004 to have an abscess in her
chest drained. She told doctors she feared that her earlier cancer was
returning, especially because her twin brother, James, had died of lung cancer
in 1994.

After nine days, Brandt was moved to San Gabriel Valley Medical Center in San
Gabriel, where she underwent psychiatric evaluation and treatment.

From there, she was moved to Brighton Convalescent Center, a long-term care
facility in Pasadena. That stay was interrupted after six weeks, when Brandt
started having seizures. She also was bleeding from her right eye.

At Alhambra Community Hospital, where she was treated, a doctor noted that in
addition to previous ailments, she had multiple infections associated with
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection prevalent on
the streets and in jails, and commonly seen in AIDS patients. She was severely
anemic. She also had a shortage of all types of blood cells, including those
that fight off infection.

Brandt was returned to the convalescent center four days later. But she was not
a willing patient. She tried to refuse an IV from nurses. She wouldn't wear a
mask to limit other patients' exposure to her infections. She threatened to
leave the facility.

During this particularly difficult period in Brandt's life, the public
guardian's office seemed to take very little role. Her file contains only two
notations in 2004 before her death in May.

Citing privacy concerns, the office refused to comment on the specifics of
Brandt's case. But spokesman Chris Fiero said that dealing with mentally ill
clients can be "extremely difficult."

His office, he says, does "the best that we can to try to arrange appropriate
living arrangements and appropriate care for all of our clients. But sometimes
the needs of the client overwhelm our ability to adequately meet those needs."

Residential facilities can also feel overwhelmed.

Steven Pavlow, the licensed operator of Brighton Convalescent Center, said in an
interview that because Brandt had developed AIDS, his facility had no choice but
to accept her as a patient when she arrived in February 2004. But he has doubts
about whether centers like his are the best place for mentally ill patients.

"Under the federal guidelines, we have no choice," Pavlow said. "And when there
are psychiatric issues, you do the best you can."

After changes in the laws about mental health care in the late 1960s, skilled
nursing facilities like his, he said, "became sort of by default the facility
for almost any kind of illness. We treat them medically, we have psychiatric
consultations, but we have absolutely no rights as a skilled nursing facility to
hold them."

On April 12, 2004, Brandt left Brighton against medical advice.

Mysteries Remain

The final weeks of Brandt's life are murky.

Late in the evening of April 29, she was admitted to the emergency room of Good
Samaritan Hospital, west of downtown Los Angeles. She had a fever and difficulty
breathing. By 2 a.m. she was back on the street.

Jess Beattie, a social worker in the emergency room, said the hospital provided
Brandt with "medical care, food, new clothing and a shower" before discharging

"From my standpoint, the care was appropriate," said Phil Fagan, director of the
emergency room. "She was, on discharge, better than when she came in."

Her whereabouts are unknown between then and 2:45 p.m. May 1, when she arrived
at the Union Rescue Mission.

One intake worker there, Stephanie Davenport, says a man she thought might have
been a taxi driver brought Brandt to the mission. Brandt said she'd been sent by
a hospital and provided a doctor's note, according to a mission log.

Mission officials say they don't know what happened to that note, and the
coroner's office says it was not among her possessions.

At the time of Brandt's death, her sister Laura was trying to locate her. In
mid-May, Laura arrived home one evening to find a letter from the county
coroner. Marina Brandt was dead.

She had died of lobar pneumonia, an ailment often associated with a compromised
immune system. There was so much infection in her right lung that it weighed
almost three times as much as her left. There were no alcohol or illegal drugs
in her system.

Laura said she is appalled to think that a hospital might have abandoned Brandt
at the time when she so clearly needed medical attention.

But the way the system worked, she said, "I am amazed that she lived to the age
of 45."


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