Suspect (in Wakefield murders) was taking drugs for depression — (Boston Herald)

SSRI Ed note: Man on Paxil, Desyrel and Prozac (recent dosage increase) brings gun to workplace, shoots 7 co-workers. Mental illness blamed, insanity doubted.

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The Boston Herald

by Dave Wedge, Tom Farmer and Jose Martinez

Friday, December 29, 2000

The hulking computer technician accused of gunning down seven of his co-workers at a Wakefield high-tech firm this week suffered from a host of mental illnesses – including schizophrenia – for which he was taking a trio of antidepressants, a source told the Herald yesterday.

“He’s got some serious psychological issues and a long (psychiatric) history,” the source said of 42-year-old Michael “Mucko” McDermott.

McDermott, a divorced Navy veteran from Marshfield who lived most recently in Haverhill, suffered from severe depression, paranoia and schizophrenia, and had been in psychiatric treatment for some time, according to the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

To cope with his mental disorders, McDermott was prescribed several Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, designed to increase brain serotonin. Low levels of brain serotonin can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.

A source familiar with the investigation said McDermott’s supervisors at Edgewater Technology Inc. did not appear to know he was using the medication.

McDermott is being held without bail on seven counts of first-degree murder in Tuesday’s massacre at Edgewater. Prosecutors have said McDermott wielded a shotgun and semiautomatic rifle with premeditated precision and extreme atrocity, hunting down workers in the company’s accounting and human resources offices but letting others flee unharmed.

He was arrested by police who found him sitting in the lobby near the bodies of two of his victims. At least two Edgewater employees witnessed the rampage, including one woman who hid behind a chair and her coat beneath a desk in the accounting office, where two of her co-workers were killed.

Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley has said McDermott may have been seeking vengeance over the impending docking of his paychecks by Edgewater to satisfy an IRS demand for back taxes. Sources say the IRS orders would have left McDermott with just $275 every two weeks.

But investigators also are looking for clues about what drove the man to kill by delving into the contents of computers seized from McDermott’s office and home, where police also found bomb-making literature and materials. One source said McDermott had attempted to wipe out the hard drive of his office computer the day of the shootings.

Yesterday, neither Coakley nor McDermott’s defense attorney, Kevin Reddington, would discuss the case or McDermott’s mental state and psychological history. However, at Wednesday’s arraignment, Reddington raised the specter of an insanity defense by saying his client had been seeing psychiatrists and asking the judge to OK his continued medication.

Insanity defenses rarely succeed. The so-called Prozac defense has been unsuccessfully attempted in dozens of murder cases nationwide, including in the case of Kip Kinkel, the teenager who killed his family and two schoolmates in Springfield, Ore.

According to the source, who is familiar with the still mounting case, McDermott had been taking Paxil, Prozac and Desyrel – all of which are SSRIs designed to treat depression, social phobias or anxiety.

The source also said orders have been sent by doctors to the Middlesex County Sheriff’s office so McDermott can receive his medications in the Cambridge jail. He will be examined by psychiatrists some time in the next week, the source said.

The revelations about McDermott’s psychiatric history emerged as his co-workers returned to St. Joseph’s Church – where so many of them had sought refuge and solace in the hours after the shootings – for a memorial service in honor of their seven slain colleagues.

“We’re all hurting and grieving, but I can’t tell you how much we’re pulling together as a team,” Edgewater Technology Chief Executive Officer Shirley Singleton said after meeting with her employees for the first time since the shootings.

The company has started a memorial fund for the families of the slain workers with a $70,000 donation. Singleton also said grief counseling, which began yesterday at the firm, would continue as long as employees need help.

She declined to discuss the shootings that claimed the lives of Jennifer Bragg Capobianco, 29; Janice Hagerty, 46; Louis Javelle, 58; Rose Manfredi, 48; Paul Marceau, 36; Cheryl Troy, 50, and Craig Wood, 29.

State and federal authorities are seeking the origin of McDermott’s weapons, including the AK-47-style rifle and 12-gauge shotgun that he is alleged to have used to kill the four women and three men, a .32-caliber pistol found in his pants pocket and a large-caliber hunting rifle found in a locker by his desk.

Haverhill police began looking for McDermott late Christmas Eve after someone reported hearing gunfire in the woods near Crystal Lake, where a man fitting his description was spotted by a car with the license plate “MUCKO.” Officers traced the car back to McDermott’s apartment but could not locate him despite several more visits Christmas Day.

One day later, investigators believe McDermott lugged the weapons unnoticed into the Harvard Mills complex, one law enforcement source said. Two soft-sided gun cases were found under his desk.

“He walked them right in and placed them under his desk,” the source said. “They had a skeleton crew working that day and no one apparently saw him or recognized what the cases were for.”

The source said McDermott loaded the shotgun with buckshot at his work station before embarking on his killing spree. The source, a longtime investigator, said the carnage he witnessed in the shooting’s aftermath left him shaken.

“I was sick to my stomach over it,” he said. “It was unlike any other murder scene because it was in a work setting. It was almost surreal. One of the (dead) women had her head resting on her arm like she knew she was going to get it.”

Meanwhile, gun control advocates held a rally outside the State House to urge lawmakers to ban the sale of assault weapons like McDermott’s. Although Massachusetts already has the country’s toughest gun law, it does not ban the sale of assault weapons manufactured before September 1994.

“They have no legitimate use in a civilized society other than for law enforcement,” said Stop Handgun Violence co-founder John E. Rosenthal.

Kevin Sowyrda, spokesman for the Gun Owners Action League, declined to comment specifically on an assault weapon ban but said, “The last thing we need in this period of mourning are political rallies.”

Donations may be made to the Edgewater Wakefield Memorial Foundation, Box 2133, Wakefield, Mass. 01880-6133. Donations may also be made at Fleet bank branches.

Karen E. Crummy contributed to this report.

Prosecutors try to shake psychiatrist’s testimony about office gunman

The Boston Globe

By Denise Lavoie, Associated Press, Michael McDermott  (Globe Staff / John Blanding)


CAMBRIDGE — Prosecutors on Thursday tried to shake the testimony of a psychiatrist who said a man who killed seven co-workers was mentally ill and unable to understand right from wrong when he went on a shooting rampage.

Dr. Anthony Joseph, testifying for the defense, did not waver from his earlier testimony, repeating his claim that Michael McDermott suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and other mental disorders when he gunned down his colleagues at Edgewater Technology on Dec. 26, 2000.

“I do not believe Mr. McDermott was malingering,” Joseph said.

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley focused on Joseph’s multipart diagnosis, in which he says McDermott was not only schizophrenic, but suffered from depression and paranoia, as well as several other disorders. Those include: seasonal affective disorder, better known as winter depression; cotard syndrome, a disorder that makes people believe they’re dead; and delusional misidentification syndrome, which makes people mistake the identities of people, places and things.

During two days on the witness stand last week, McDermott, a 43-year-old software engineer, said he believes he killed Nazis — not his co-workers.

He said St. Michael the Archangel appeared to him 12 days before the killings and told him he could prevent the Holocaust and earn a soul if he traveled back in time to 1940 and killed Adolf Hitler and six German generals.

Under questioning from Coakley, Joseph acknowledged that he did not corroborate everything McDermott told him about his medical and psychological history. He also admitted he reached the conclusion that McDermott was not faking his mental disorders before he learned that McDermott had purchased a clinical textbook on malingering and searched the Internet for materials on “how to fake mental illness.”

But Joseph said he still believes McDermott is not faking.

Prosecutors contend that McDermott killed his co-workers after becoming enraged about the company’s decision to comply with an IRS order to withhold some of his wages to pay back taxes he owed.

On Wednesday, Joseph testified that McDermott had tripled his dosage of Prozac before the shootings, a move that may have heightened his rage and sparked the shooting spree.

Joseph said McDermott told him that he had increased his dosage of Prozac by Dec. 1, first from 70 milligrams per day to 140 milligrams, and then to 210 milligrams.  Joseph said McDermott increased the dosage without his doctor’s permission or advice.

Although Prozac is an antidepressant, potential side effects include restlessness, agitation, psychosis, rage, anger and violence, Joseph said.

“I would offer the opinion that it’s very possible that Prozac is the final piece of the puzzle that explains the level of rage and anger that allowed the killings to occur,” said Joseph, an attending psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

He acknowledged, however, that he could not say to “a reasonable degree of medical certainty” what effect the increased dosage had on McDermott.

Prosecutors planned to call medical experts of their own as rebuttal witnesses to support their theory that McDermott concocted an elaborate tale to make himself look  insane to the jury.