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May 07, 2011 at 10:42 AM, updated May 07, 2011 at 5:21 PM
Syracuse, NY — Victor Campione said he’d been to police three times in the past year, alerting them that his younger brother wasn’t taking his medication and was slipping deeper into paranoid schizophrenia.
On Thursday, two sheriff’s deputies and one Syracuse police officer ended Benjamin Campione’s decades-long struggle with mental illness by shooting him dead when he pointed a pellet gun at them in the parking lot of the Regional Transportation Center.
“This wasn’t suicide by cop,” said Campione, of Jordan, it was a mentally ill person reacting to what he thought was a threat.
Campione said his brother, who he calls “Benny,” was first diagnosed while serving in the Army in the late 1970s. He was discharged from the service after a year and a half of peacetime service as a medic. After that he came home and lived with or near family.
When he was taking his medicine, Benny was kind and generous, but when he didn’t he would act bizarrely, Campione recalled that he:
He dressed as a ninja and threatened a woman with a pellet gun at a gas station in LaFayette. State police took him into custody with no violence.
Barricaded himself in his room while living with his elderly parents. Syracuse police came and found he had a pellet gun, but again he was taken without violence.
He once dressed as a priest and stood in front of Assumption Church talking with children.
Escaped from Hutchings Psychiatric Center, jumping from a second story window. When police recaptured him, he was charged with assault for striking an officer as he tried to get away.
Came to believe he was Jesus and converted to Judaism.
After the escape and after the ninja incident Benjamin Campione was taken to Canandaigua Veterans Administration Medical Center, Campione said.
Campione said his brother lived on a military disability pension that allowed him to buy his parents’ home and live well enough. But after they died – his mother in Sept. 2007 and his father two years later – Benny stopped taking his medication and started drinking, maybe even smoking marijuana.
Campione said he tried to get the Veterans Administration to help and went to Syracuse police three times. With frustration in his voice, he said they told him there was nothing they could do.
Campione was called shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday with the news his brother had been shot dead after pointing a pellet gun at police. He opened his brothers home to investigators Friday. The once-immaculate residence was a testament, he said, to how deeply paranoid his brother had become. Doors were nailed shut and boarded up. Power was off. A knife was stuck into the front door. “Everything looks as if his paranoia was taking over.”
Campione, a former Clay police officer and retired state corrections officer, said he doesn’t blame the officer and deputies who shot his brother. But, he wants to know why police, who now say his brother was wanted on a DWI warrant, couldn’t have gone to the home to arrest him before Wednesday, before he bought the pellet gun he died holding Thursday.
Contact Charles McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.