14-year-old shooting suspect has history of mental illness, family says
Wednesday, Oct 31, 2007 – 12:00 AM
BY Amy Hunter
The 14-year-old boy charged with shooting a convenience store clerk in the face last week had been in a mental hospital the day before.
But a treatment team evaluated the troubled boy and released him from Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute after finding him “ready for discharge,” according to hospital records shared by a family member.
The boy, whom the Bristol Herald Courier is not identifying because of his age, is a victim of an overburdened and underfunded statewide mental health system, family members say.
In and out of trouble and treatment centers for half his life, the boy’s cries for help culminated in tragedy just before midnight Thursday at a convenience store near Rural Retreat, his relatives say.
The boy and 35-year-old Derek Evan Fisher, both of Rural Retreat, are charged with robbing the Village Truck Stop on Lee Highway in the Groseclose area and shooting the clerk, who survived.
Three of the boy’s family members do not dispute his wrongdoing, but insisted Monday their pleas for help have gone unheeded.
“By no means are we taking up for the crime that he has done,” said the boy’s aunt. “There are so many teens that struggle with this and the courts need to take it into account.”
A written statement released by the family said: “Despite his mother’s requests and pleas to the court to give him the psychological help that he needs, he has only received probation, fines or short-term mental health treatments for three weeks or less. … We feel that unless he gets the help he needs, and learns how to cope, he will without a doubt, become more bitter and dangerous by the time he is released back into society.”
Under Virginia law, the boy’s criminal records are sealed from public view.
He remains in custody to face charges of attempted capital murder, armed robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a robbery.
The boy’s connection with Fisher could not be determined.
The Smyth County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office said no court date has been set and no decision made yet about whether to try the boy as an adult.
According to his hospital discharge papers, the boy was released from Southwestern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Marion on Oct. 24 after nine days. The reason for his hospitalization is not included in his discharge papers.
Upon his release, the boy was given one-week doses of Seroquel and Effexor and directed to take 100 mg and 75 mg daily, respectively. He also was given prescriptions for both drugs, which carry warnings about increased suicide thoughts in some children.
“Denies S/H [self-harm] ideations,” the discharge papers state.
Seroquel is prescribed to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to the drug’s Web site, Seroquel.com.
Effexor is prescribed to treat major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, social anxiety and panic disorder, according to the manufacturer’s Web site, Effexor.com.
The boy was scheduled for an at-home therapy appointment at 3 p.m. Thursday, but his assigned therapist refused to comment or to say whether the session took place.
Eight hours after the scheduled appointment, family members say the 14-year-old shot the store clerk.
“The child, one minute can be nice, and the next minute he snaps at you,” said his aunt, whom the newspaper is not naming to protect her nephew’s identity.
“From 7 years of age, he’s been in trouble – kids have always picked on him because of his teeth.”
The boy has a facial disfigurement, the aunt said, in which his teeth grow very high on his gums and stick straight out. The family does not have the resources to treat him and believes ridicule has contributed to his mental instability, the aunt said.
“It’s dragged him down,” she said. “He would hang his little head down when he would go to school and kids would pick on him.”
The boy was kicked out of Smyth County schools in the fourth grade, his aunt said, and this year was attending a “special school” in Wytheville.
“His mom has taken him to school counselors, she has talked to the principal at his schools, she has taken him to psychiatrists,” the aunt said. “The only place that has really helped him has been the institute.”
The problem, she said, is the state won’t treat him long term and the family cannot afford private care.
“The problem here is not the mental institution, it’s the judicial system,” the aunt said.
The family is praying that the judicial system factors in his mental illness when determining his punishment and gets him the help he needs.
“Why did he do this?” the aunt asked. “Why did a 14-year-old boy pull the trigger to shoot a man? We have no answers for that, and God in heaven knows we would have prevented it if we could have.”
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