Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Washington State Roadblock Tragedy

The headlines are as chilling as they are too familiar.  “Six dead in Skagit County shooting rampage,” reads the September 3, 2008 Seattle Times headline.

The shooter, 28-year-old Isaac Zamora has a history of mental illness and was living alone in the woods, despite attempts by his family to get him the help he needs.  The help that might have saved the lives of six innocent people who were left dead along Interstate 5 north of Seattle.

One of the victims, Anne Jackson a Skagit County sheriff’s deputy, was aware of Zamora’s history of mental illness and had told his family to call her anytime for help.

This raises many, many questions.

Why put a law enforcement officer in this type of situation?

Why wasn’t Zamora in treatment?

Why didn’t county officials do more to help the Zamora family get their son treatment?

In the days to come, some of these questions will be answered and many others will be raised. 

Earlier this year, another tragedy in Washington State raised some of the same questions.  Anthony Williams refused to take medication for his paranoid schizophrenia.  His family tried to get help.  He had numerous contacts with law enforcement over violent threats.  Finally, on New Year’s Eve, he fatally stabbed 31-year old Shannon Harps outside her house.

Prior to the tragedy, county officials said Williams did not pose an “imminent” threat, even though Washington’s law does not insist that someone be “imminently” dangerous to receive treatment.  Washington State does, however, require a county designated mental health professional to act as a middle man when a family tries to get someone help.  This was a roadblock to treatment then, and remains a roadblock today after six more people have lost their lives on the side of an Interstate. 

Washington State needs to remove the roadblock to care before another tragedy strikes.