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The News & Observer
Friday, May 23, 2003 6:10AM EDT
By ANN S. KIM AND ANNE BLYTHE, Staff Writers
Orange deputies couldn’t take firearms from Farb, who later killed 3, shot himself
HILLSBOROUGH — Sheriff’s deputies revoked Roderick Morris Farb’s concealed weapons permit a day after he was involuntarily committed for threatening suicide, but they did not have the authority to confiscate any firearms he had, according to Orange County Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass.
On Monday, less than two weeks later, Farb, 56, fatally shot his estranged wife, Erin Elizabeth Farb, 43; her daughter, Ashley Thomas, 9; and David Edward Cooley, 49, before turning the gun on himself, authorities said.
On May 7, a day after UNC Hospitals evaluated and released Roderick Farb following his involuntary commitment, Pendergrass sent deputies to Farb’s home at 1701 Doe Run Road to take his concealed weapons permit.
Pendergrass said Thursday that when a person with a concealed handgun permit becomes disqualified, he or she is immediately told to forfeit the permit.
“That’s all we can do, is [say], ‘Turn the permit over to us.’ The law doesn’t say that we can do anything other than that,” Pendergrass said.
Court documents related to Farb’s commitment provide some insight into his mental state in the weeks leading up to the shooting at his wife’s home at 1600 Victoria Woods Drive, near Mebane.
On May 5, Farb went to a walk-in clinic at UNC Hospitals. A clinician wrote that Farb reported symptoms of a “major depressive episode” over the previous two weeks, had planned to shoot himself and had a gun at home. The clinician wrote that Farb needed hospitalization for “safety and stabilization” but that he left before the attending clinician saw him.
The clinician asked the court to commit Farb involuntarily, saying he was probably mentally ill and posed a danger to himself and others.
A magistrate granted the request at 11:59 p.m. May 5. A sheriff’s deputy delivered Farb to UNC Hospitals in the early morning on May 6 for an examination.
Dr. John Barkenbus recommended Farb be held for further evaluation.
At one point in the commitment process, a physician noted that Farb had informed them he was in the “midst of marital conflict.”
Later on May 6, Farb was deemed “no longer in need of inpatient hospitalization” and was unconditionally discharged.
According to state law, people cannot be kept involuntarily unless they are mentally ill and pose a danger to themselves or to others, according to Linmarie Sikich, a psychiatrist at UNC Hospitals.
Hospital officials said privacy laws prevent them from releasing specific details about Farb’s case. But in a statement issued Monday, officials said no one is released from commitment before the hospital determines that treatment in a less-restrictive setting is safe.
“Unfortunately, sometimes a patient with suicidal wishes says and does all the right things to indicate that the danger has passed, but then nonetheless commits acts of violence against himself or others,” the statement said.
Karen McCall, a hospital spokeswoman, said the the circumstances of Farb’s case have been evaluated. “And after study, no changes [in procedure] have been deemed necessary,” McCall said.
After the shooting, investigators from the sheriff’s office searched Farb’s home for suicide notes, threatening letters, diaries, information about medical treatment and other evidence about the killings. Among the items seized were the antidepressant Celexa, information about a doctor’s appointment May 16, and a .22-caliber revolver. Another handgun was found in Farb’s hand at the crime scene.
Pendergrass said Farb applied for the concealed weapons permit Dec. 7, 1995. Farb was granted the permit after the sheriff’s office ran the required criminal and mental-health checks, Pendergrass said, and the checks were performed again when Farb renewed his permit four years later.
Farb also had two gun purchase permits, issued in 1989 and 1998, from the sheriff’s office, Pendergrass said. Farb was not required to register his guns, he said.
Pendergrass said it was his duty to revoke Farb’s concealed weapons permit after his commitment, but the law didn’t allow him to take away any guns.
“North Carolina doesn’t give law enforcement the right to do but certain things,” Pendergrass said. “If the law allows us to do something, we do it.”
A domestic violence measure has been introduced in the state legislature this year that would require judges to order people to surrender their firearms under certain circumstances.
The bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat, would apply to anyone who threatens suicide, uses or threatens to use deadly weapons, threatens to seriously injure or kill a minor or a victim of domestic violence, or has seriously injured a minor or a victim of domestic violence.
Orange-Chatham District Attorney Carl Fox said judges can order people to give up their guns in certain situations. A defendant who threatens his wife, for example, could be ordered to turn over any guns he owns to the sheriff until his case is resolved, Fox said.
Involuntary commitment can bar people from buying a gun but has no effect on any guns they might already own, he said.
“There’s no law that requires them to turn them in simply because they’ve been involuntarily committed,” Fox said.
Staff writer Ann S. Kim can be reached at 932-2014 or firstname.lastname@example.org.