Pills linked to vicious attack on family? Teen went psycho — (EDMONTON SUN)

Original article no longer available


 NEWS Friday, July 5, 2002


You can hear her terror on the tape – Deb Wampler’s 911 call, made while crouched in her basement in a spreading pool of her own blood.

“Stop it! Stop it! Please stop! Oh my God! He’s stabbing us …” She’s screaming now, gripping the phone with sticky hands and dying by inches. “He’s stabbing us all … My daughter …”

(In the background), “Mommy … help me…”

That’s it. Deb passed out seconds afterward. By that point her attacker – a 16-year-old boy – had already moved up the stairs to start plunging a 20-cm butcher knife several times into Leeanne, 17, Deb’s eldest, before snatching her purse and running off into the night along 112 Avenue.

There was no warning. The boy – I’m calling him Kenny – had been Leeanne’s closest friend for years.

He was a sweet kid, beloved of the Wampler family – a little sad, introverted, but never violent. Until the evening of July 31, 2001.

“He seemed fine,” said Deb yesterday. “He was spending the summer with us. Madeleine (the younger girl, 12) went downstairs to play Nintendo. (Kenny) went into the kitchen, then to the basement.”

Minutes later, ragged screams split the air. “Stop it! Stop!” Deb raced downstairs to find Kenny crouched over Maddie, blood everywhere, the knife raised in his left hand.

She tackled him, he started gouging at her with the blade – her leg, deep into her stomach, her shoulder, her back.

“There was so much blood,” Deb said. “All the time he was stabbing me, there was nothing in his face, no emotion. No anger, nothing. Like he wasn’t there.”

The Wamplers survived, though not by much. Kenny turned himself in to cops hours later.

During his initial police interview, he gave no reason for the attack. He wasn’t angry at the Wamplers. He didn’t imagine they’d done him any wrong. They were his friends.

“That’s what was so weird,” said Edmonton police Det. Mark Anstey.

“Police know all the motives for trying to kill someone – money, sex, jealousy. Here, there was nothing. He just … did it. I’d never seen anything like it.”

At the time, Anstey suspected Kenny was lying about his lack of a motive. Now his suspicions point in another direction – at Paxil, the prescription antidepressant Kenny was taking at the time of his baffling rampage. He now thinks the drug may have played a part.

“I think it’s possible. There has to be an explanation.”

That, at least, is the explanation the Wamplers are pursuing. They’re arranging a lawsuit against the drug’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, with Texas attorney Andy Vickery.

Vickery won a landmark $8-million decision against the company a year ago in the case of Donald Schell, who had been taking Paxil for just 48 hours when he shot and killed his wife, his daughter, his granddaughter and himself in 1998.

Kenny’s court psychiatric report diagnosed him as schizophrenic and said the “rapidly increased dose in anti-depressant medications may have contributed to the acute psychotic break that culminated in (the) violent assault.”

Kenny’s mother said he was put on Paxil by his doctor about six months before the attack, for depression.

In June 2001, she said, Kenny tried to slash his wrists; his dosage was upped from 20 mg daily to 30, and then to 40 mg two weeks later.

“He looks back now and says that after the dosage was increased, he started thinking differently,” his mom said. “He started having violent thoughts.”

It fits the pattern, said a Los Angeles lawyer whose firm is handling several lawsuits alleging dangerous side-effects from so-called “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor” drugs like Paxil in a small percentage of cases.

“It’s called akathisia, extreme agitation. Some victims describe it as like an out-of-body experience,” said Karen Barth. “We’ve been doing these suicide-violence cases for 10 years. Usually the negative effects show up immediately after the subject starts taking the drug. But in this case, the initial dosage might have been too low to trigger the effect.”

Vickery’s case against Paxil depended heavily on medical testimony suggesting the drug can trigger suicidal or violent behaviour in a small number of patients. His central claim was that the company refused to warn the public of the risk.

Two factors complicate the Wamplers’ claim against GlaxoSmithKline: the fact that Kenny already had been on the drug for half a year, and the fact that he’d consumed both marijuana and alcohol earlier on the day of the attack.

GlaxoSmithKline failed to return repeated phone messages from The Edmonton Sun.

Kenny, by the way, is mending. In his first days after arriving at Alberta Hospital he retained the emotionless, robotic air he had when he was trying to kill his friends. Then he cracked, and – according to his mom – cried for weeks.

“They say he’s getting better,” she said. “He’s on medication, but they say he can come off it eventually. He knows how he hurt the people he loves. He has to live with it.”