Slain Wilbraham man called genius, menace — (Springfield Union-News)

SSRI Ed note: Young man on Prozac goads police into shooting him, they kill him.

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Springfield Union-News (MA)

February 14, 1995

Author: FORD TURNER, STAFF; UNION-NEWS (Springfield, Mass.)

When neighbors watched Joseph H. Reinhardt Jr. fall into the snow on Cooley Drive Sunday, fatally wounded by a police officer’s shotgun blast, some knew him only as their former paperboy.  But others knew the 21-year-old Reinhardt as a troubled young man under medication for a chemical imbalance; one who was on probation for assault after he attacked two men with a knife and brass knuckles last year.

In interviews yesterday, he was described variously as a genius, a menace and a man in search of help.  Reinhardt shot his mother in the buttocks at their 16 Cooley Drive home Sunday afternoon, officials said. He then fired several stray shots, marched down the middle of the street toward a police roadblock, yelling “Do it, do it!”

He held a .22-caliber rifle pointed at his chin and had a homemade firebomb in his possession, police said. After Reinhardt refused to drop his weapon and approached to within 25 feet, he was shot once in the chest by state Trooper Joseph Gura.

Reinhardt later was pronounced dead at Baystate Medical Center. His mother, Eileen Reinhardt, 48, was listed in fair condition at the medical center yesterday.

Officials yesterday could not say what triggered the violence in the Reinhardt home.  Bloodstains, a piece of yellow police tape and a discarded oxygen mask remained at the corner of Cooley Drive and Northwood Drive yesterday. Police questioned residents about what they saw Sunday.

Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett said his office was investigating police conduct. He said Reinhardt threatened officers with the gun and it appeared they “tried to do the best they could in a difficult situation. . . . It initially appears police tried up until the end to avoid this result.”

State Police Sgt. Larry Gillis said troopers are not trained to shoot to kill or to wound a suspect.

To neutralize threat

“We are trained to shoot at the center of mass and to neutralize the threat,” Gillis said.  Bennett said he knew of no administrative action that had been taken against Gura. The trooper, according to Bennett, has spoken to members of a state police stress counseling program.

A neighbor and witness to the shooting, Michael White, said of Reinhardt’s actions, “He wanted to die.” Another, Barbara Keith, said Reinhardt appeared to be furious as he marched several hundred yards from his home toward the intersection.  Last night, Bennett was not sure if an autopsy on Reinhardt was complete. He said tapes of Sunday telephone conversations between Reinhardt and police were under review.

Reinhardt was the son of Joseph H. Reinhardt Sr., a lawyer who specializes in bankruptcy cases. A spokesman for the Reinhardt family, lawyer Michael Ascher, said, “We are currently in the process of investigating this entire matter.”  According to a 1994 police report, the younger Reinhardt was 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. He was recalled as “a genius” by Hannah MacKenzie.

The 17-year-old Agawam resident said Reinhardt often visited her brother, Joel, and sometimes stayed overnight in their home.  “He was real, real smart . . . one of those guys who could answer every question on (the TV game show) Jeopardy,” she said.

Reinhardt once told MacKenzie that he was taking Prozac, she said. The drug is used to treat mental depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.   “He told me that he had a chemical imbalance and he was taking medication for it,” MacKenzie said.

Many of Reinhardt’s neighbors said he delivered their newspaper about five or six years ago.  “There were a couple of things about him that were a little different . . . but nothing that I couldn’t ascribe to being a teen-ager,” said Raymond W. Hegarty, a retired Internal Revenue Service worker who lives at 4 Cooley Drive.

Reinhardt appeared at least twice in Palmer District Court in 1991 on charges that included malicious destruction of property, possession of fireworks and possession of an air rifle, according to court records.  One charge stemmed from the destruction of a bunk in a Palmer police station holding cell, while another resulted from an egg-throwing incident at a church.

Reinhardt was ordered by a judge to make restitution and pay fines and court costs. He was placed on supervised probation, including a condition that he continue to receive treatment from a physician.  Reinhardt attended Pioneer Valley Christian School, a private school in Springfield. He was enrolled at the University of Massachusetts for a short time in the fall of 1992, left school, and was re-enrolled for a portion of 1993, according to campus spokeswoman Karen Sherbin.

She could not say why he left the university.

Final year

Last year, he entered Holyoke Community College with a full course load for the spring semester, which began on Jan. 24, according to Vice President for Student Development Paul E. Raverta.   Two weeks later, on Feb. 7, he attacked one man with brass knuckles and another man, campus police officer Luis Flores, with a knife, according to police reports. Raverta said Reinhardt was taken to the Holyoke police station by campus police officers.

Holyoke Police Lt. Marc Cournoyer, now a shift commander, was the booking officer on duty when Reinhardt arrived about 2:45 p.m.   “He didn’t cause us any problems,” Cournoyer said, “I was concerned about him.

“He told me he was taking medication for violence seizures and he just wanted help. . . . He was in an emotional state. He wanted to hurt somebody, anybody, and that’s what he did. He attacked a student without any reason.”    Raverta said Reinhardt withdrew from college a short time later. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 18 in Hampden Superior Court to assault with a dangerous weapon, a knife; and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, brass knuckles.

Another charge, armed assault with intent to murder, was not prosecuted. While the case was pending and after the plea, he underwent numerous psychiatric evaluations, but those reports are confidential.  Two months after the guilty pleas, a judge gave him concurrent sentences of three to five years in prison, suspended for five years with probation.

Counseling ordered

The judge also ordered Reinhardt to get psychiatric counseling; that he undergo family counseling if ordered by the Probation Department; that he remain on his medication; that he stay away from the victims; that he provide 100 hours of community service and that he stay employed or seek employment unless enrolled in college.

Some neighbors said they sometimes heard loud shouting during arguments inside the two-story Cape home at 16 Cooley Drive.  “We’re just very sad it had to end tragically,” said neighbor Joan Hermance. “It’s too bad they weren’t able to get help.”  One neighbor who did not want to be identified said Reinhardt was not thought of as a bad guy by those who knew him.  “He was a gentle and good person who struggled as so many people do . . . to find peace within himself.”

Reporters Bill Sweet, Kevin Claffey, Marty Lauer, Carol Murphy and Patrick Johnson contributed to this report.


Copyright, 1995, The Republican Company, Springfield, MA. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.
Record Number:  MERLIN_315630