The Blue Raccoon

Monday, October 29, 2007


I didn't learn of the murder of Susanne L. Thompson until late this afternoon. She died across the street from my office at about 9 a.m. on Saturday. I remember seeing her with her little dog Angie. The man who killed her, Johnny F. Hughes -- according to the newspaper report-- is a paranoid schizophrenic, considered dangerous, and off his meds.

That this event came to pass not a few paces away from my workplace door is the result of a cascading series of errors. Ms. Thompson did nothing wrong. But Mr. Hughes, mentally ill and poor, and with a previous record, was wandering the streets, a muttering crazy man with his fingers curling around a weapon.

He wasn't criminal enough to jail, nor deranged enough to institutionalize. Both solutions are expensive and in some cases harmful. Still, if the system had been constructed well enough to take in Hughes, Ms. Thompson would be alive to walk Angie today.

I pass by these types every single day in my daily preambulations to and from work and everywhere else I'm able to walk. I've never felt threatened, though this afternoon one of these guys, familiar to from my Cary Street wanderings, came toward me, "Heya brother-man," in a way that, frankly, if I'd not heard him speak before I wouldn't have understood. When I didn't respond he bellowed at me, "What's a matter? You deaf and dumb?" Which gave me a chuckle.

But I'm not a petite, middle-aged woman, and this fellow didn't come after me with a pocket knife. The question this begs is: how is that Hughes was wandering the streets and off his medication? There are underlying reasons why this came to pass, and it's the ugly truth that in this country we don't know really know how to deal with the mentally ill--especially in the underprivileged classes-- except to medicate them into oblivion. There's not enough social workers or money to supervise them. When these afflicted individuals fail to follow their course of medication, they are a danger to at least themselves, and in some cases, other innocent people.

This a strange, random tragedy that underscores just how fragile life is and that nothing can be taken for granted, not even a morning walk.

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