by Patrick Appel

A reader shares:

Give the mentally ill too much freedom and a number of them end up in jail. Give too much power to relatives and relatively healthy people can lose their freedom.

I have an uncle, only five years older than I. He’s spent a fair amount of time in the system starting as a juvenile – underage drinking, drug possession, vandalism. After juvenile hall, he was removed from his father’s house and placed with an older sister where he lived for about a year until he turned 18. More arrests for drinking, DUI, possession and an arrest for felony burglary at 22, for which he served two years in prison. He received several diagnosis during these years – depression, personality disorders, was even referred to as a sociopath by one institution - but no treatment.

The following 25 years saw more DUI’s, a marriage and annulment, drug possessions, theft. The last 5 or so have been the most harrowing. He found Crystal Meth. The decline from the already low was rapid and frightening. He would often show up at my father’s house (his oldest brother) going off about Peak Oil or some other World-Ending Event and leave in a rage. It got to the point my mother wouldn’t allow him in the house and my father had to drive off somewhere with him and try to reason with him. Obviously to no avail. There was nothing anyone could do – nothing short of getting him committed which no matter how many phone calls, arrests, stints in the county detox and outright pleading with the authorities, it just wasn’t going to happen. He hadn’t really hurt anyone. I mean, there wasn’t any blood anywhere so he was causing no real damage to himself or anyone else, right?

About a year ago I was awoken by the pacing of my dog. Thinking he wanted to go outside, I got up to let him out. In hindsight I should have known what was coming next: as soon as I opened the bedroom door my dog dropped his nose to the ground and started moving around the house instead of just trotting over to the front door. Being in a 5 am fog, it just didn’t click. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw my uncle standing in the dining room about 20 feet away. With a gun.

I didn’t recognize him at first. He was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and the sun was just starting to come up. He was about 30 lbs lighter than the last time I’d seen him, black-dark circles under his eyes. And the eyes…tar pits. There was no one there. No light. My uncle kept repeating the same thing: “We have a problem”.

I called to my husband, he came out. My uncle wanted us to go outside with him. My husband said he’d go outside, but I was staying right there. My uncle started to raise the gun to force the issue, and he went to the kitchen drawer and pulled out my husband’s gun. He’d been in the house for some time, even hiding other things that could have been used as weapons. My husband started going out the door drawing him outside. As soon as my uncle was on the porch, pointing two guns at my husband’s head, my husband turned, pulled my uncle off his feet with the barrel of one gun, and wrestled him to the ground. I went out to the porch and went after the handgun he’d taken from the drawer. I got pushed off and away at some point, it was then my uncle started firing. I was shot twice. I went after the handgun again, my husband still wrestling with him. I wasn’t able to get the gun away from him, so I ran inside to call for help. Then more gunshots – bullets whizzed through my house.

Before it was over, my uncle held the handgun to my husband’s head and pulled the trigger. Thank God it was empty. He was completely out of ammunition at this point. My husband threw him on the ground and ran inside, locking the door just as my uncle hit it full force. My uncle got in his car and drove away, leaving behind night-vision goggles and a 10” knife. The police think that if it weren’t for my dog being in the bedroom with us – he would have stabbed us to death in our sleep.

It’s now a little over a year later, and we still haven’t gone to trial. Now all of the sudden he’s mentally ill and he needs treatment, not incarceration. You see he was just so angry that my father never took my uncle’s conspiracies seriously, that he figured killing me would be a great way to get back at my dad.

I have a rather large family, Catholics on one side. Just counting siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins it totals out at 36. My brother came to the hospital, my parents came to my house after I was released. My father cried like a baby when he saw me. It makes me cry when I think about that. My mother said she was glad he came to my house instead of hers. That makes me cry too. The aunt that took my uncle in as a teenager came to a court hearing all the way from Belize, she said not to take it personally, he didn’t mean to shoot me. And I didn’t mean to have these scars and to have basically lost a year of my life. Haven’t heard from anyone else. I probably don’t want to.

You want to know the real kicker? He was caught three weeks prior to shooting me, in a house not far from my brother’s house, with a gun. He’s a felon, and they released him without bail.

He was “relatively healthy” before this happened. And he’s “relatively healthy” now that he’s medicated.

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