Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

SHOULD SHICK HAVE BEEN COMMITTED? DISTRICT ATTORNEY PROBES EPISODES BEFORE GUNMAN'S FATAL RAMPAGE AT WESTERN PSYCH [Corrected 04/21/12]

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

SHOULD SHICK HAVE BEEN COMMITTED? DISTRICT ATTORNEY PROBES EPISODES BEFORE GUNMAN'S FATAL RAMPAGE AT WESTERN PSYCH [Corrected 04/21/12]

Article excerpt

On two separate occasions this winter, medical providers deemed that John F. Shick should be involuntarily committed to a mental institution because of disturbing behaviors he was exhibiting.

But for reasons that remain unclear, no one in Pittsburgh took action to commit Shick -- something that had already occurred in both Oregon and New York City during the past several years, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday.

Even as Mr. Zappala awaited reports from forensic investigators searching for clues to Shick's March 8 shooting rampage at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic by combing through roughly 8,000 emails Shick left behind on his laptop computer, the district attorney provided new information about significant contact Shick had with the mental health care system across three states.

Although authorities have not determined why Shick targeted Western Psych, Mr. Zappala described a schizophrenic 30-year-old man who was off his anti-psychotic medication and complained vigorously of pancreatitis and other ailments he apparently did not have. As a result, Mr. Zappala said, Shick grew furious with UPMC and its physicians -- particularly Vijay Singh -- and "spiraled out of control."

"He's mad at the doctors at [UPMC]. [He believes] they're blacklisting him, they're misdiagnosing him. He resents the fact that they're not coming to the same conclusions. But he's clearly schizophrenic. He's clearly sick," Mr. Zappala said. "Nobody wants to treat him because he doesn't have an intestinal or parasitic problem."

As part of a wide-ranging investigation into the mass shooting that left Western Psych employee Michael Schaab dead and five others wounded before police killed Shick, Mr. Zappala ordered a review of the shooter's medical and psychiatric records, which were obtained from UPMC under a court order.

An 11-page summary prepared for the district attorney by Bruce A. Wright, chairman of the psychiatry department at St. Clair Hospital, discusses a pair of interactions Shick had with health care workers that left them troubled.

The first, on Feb. 10, involved a "crisis clinician" and a registered nurse.

During that interaction, according to the summary, Shick was aggressive, rambling, difficult to engage, belligerent, verbally abusive, unstable and agitated, Mr. Zappala said. He also exhibited "bizarre" behavior and made a "comment about beating up a medical staff member."

"There are notations in the medical records which would indicate behaviors which are consistent with the need to institutionalize Mr. Shick" and "which would be sufficient to have somebody institutionalized," Mr. Zappala said.

However, he added, "It's not clear that they asked for 302," referring to the section of the state statute that guides involuntary commitments.

On that same day, Shick appeared at the Shadyside Family Health Center with a baseball bat. UPMC said he used it as a cane and was nonthreatening, but prosecutors said he was "menacing."

On Feb. 20, Shick spoke three times by phone with someone from what Mr. Zappala called "crisis services." Mr. Zappala said he did not know the content of the conversations, but an appointment was made for the next day.

"Why the next day? …

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