10 YEARS AGO: Remembering Jan. 10, 2001
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Jan. 11, 2006 by The Union.
On Jan. 10, 2001, Scott Harlan Thorpe reached a peak in the mental illness that had bedeviled him for years.
In his home on Mooney Flat Road, he selected a 9mm, semi-automatic Ruger and clips from among his cache of weapons. He drove to Nevada City and Grass Valley.
He shot six people, changed the course of seven families and scarred a community.
Five years later, the victims and their families told their stories to The Union.
The pain of what happened has not gone away, though it has become more manageable. They all get on with life, though life has taken a very different turn.
Healing has taken its own pathway for each: sometimes inward and quiet, sometimes public and vocal. Their paths are marked with humor and anger, gratitude and guilt.
Some still seek therapy. Some get relief from the medicine of time. Many battle with depression.
Some take comfort in religious faith. Some wonder where God was when they needed him.
Some stay in touch with each other. There are tensions among them for the choices made along the way.
Yet, none wants any more hurt for anyone, ever.
All struggle greatly in some way.
And, for most, there is some detail, or several, that won’t let them rest: the way something was handled or not handled, an apology that came late, a question never answered, pain not acknowledged.
What could have been.
What never will be.
What could be still.
— — —
Judith Edzards was a clerical supervisor for Nevada County’s Behavioral Health department. She hired Laura Wilcox as a receptionist.
Five years ago today, a winter storm poured down rain. Employees called to say they weren’t coming in.
In the building just down the hill from the main office, case worker Kim Cuisinot was thinking about the chocolate that Edzards kept at her desk. “I wanted that chocolate,” Cuisinot recalled. “I headed to her office, then realized I had forgotten some paperwork and came back.”
Edzards was sitting at a desk behind Wilcox when Scott Thorpe walked in. Their office was behind a pane of ordinary window glass the county had installed after employees had asked for a bullet-proof barrier.
“I was shot in the head, through the lungs, in the esophagus, in the right shoulder,” said Edzards, now 54.
One of the three bullets that hit her smashed through the right front temporal lobe of the brain, the part that deals with personality, memory and the ability to recognize things.
During the first two weeks Edzards lay in the hospital, the Behavioral Health lobby was remodeled. Bullet-proof glass was installed at the reception window.
It was another two weeks before Edzards’ family learned whether her injured brain would ever work again.
In the ensuing years, her husband, Darrel, became her nurse and caretaker. “I had to learn to walk. I had to learn what a kitchen is,” she said.
A year ago, Edzards’ doctors took a part of her stomach and turned it into an esophagus. Now, she said, she can swallow more normally. She yearns to taste a doughnut again.
She has no memories of that day. But when the weather turns stormy, she grows anxious.
Sometimes, Edzards said, she knows what she wants to say, but the words don’t come out right.
“I’m left with bullet fragments in my head that can’t be removed. My scars are not only external, but internal as well,” she said.
As Edzards and her husband talk about their struggles, they look at each other, touch and fall silent. It is the first time she has told her story publicly. It is time, she said. She is moving on.
“I have had many, many, many surgeries and procedures,” Edzards said. “I struggle daily, but with the support and love and encouragement of family and friends and a great medical team, I fight. I fight every day.
There is a bench at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.
After the shooting, people from the community donated money to help the family. Edzards used part of it to buy the bench and a plaque to commemorate all those whose lives were changed by the shooting. “I go there every year and place a rose there,” Edzards said.
She donated the rest of the money to Meals on Wheels.
Edzards said she hoped a revisiting of these events would refocus the community’s attention on the needs of the mentally ill.
“It’s very, very important that this not be forgotten, because this keeps the awareness of mental illness out there,” Edzards said. “It is a disease. It’s not to be overlooked or taken lightly.”
She said she worries that the system designed to help the mentally ill is still, failing those who need it most.
“This was a preventable tragedy,” Edzards said.
— — —
PEARLIE MAE FELDMAN
Pearlie Mae Feldman was the pillar of her family. “She took care of everybody,” her daughter, Robinette Jewell, said.
At 68, Pearlie Mae was helping to raise her granddaughters, Marissa and Amber Jewell, whose law enforcement parents worked crazy hours. She regularly picked up Marissa from school and never missed the girls’ basketball games.
She also was a caretaker for her 81-year-old husband, Emil Feldman, and her 78-year-old brother-in-law, George Feldman.
“She was the most loving, sweet, gentle, wonderful person you’d ever want to meet,” Robinette said.
On Jan. 10, 2001, Pearlie Mae had just left George with a nurse at the Behavioral Health office at Nevada City’s HEW building. Emil, who was recovering from a broken hip, waited in the car outside.
Pearlie Mae came out the door from the hallway into the waiting room and was talking to receptionist Laura Wilcox to make George’s next appointment. Scott Thorpe walked in and started shooting.
Pearlie Mae slumped against the door. When the shooting was over and police brought people out of the building, they had to step over Feldman’s body to get out.
Earlier that morning, Robinette had offered to drive her Uncle George to the HEW building for his appointment.
“It had been raining that morning, and I had told her I would take him, but she said, ‘Oh, no, I’ll do it, I’ll go,’” Robinette recalled. A few hours later, she heard the news of the shooting and feared for her relatives.
“A light bulb went on when I called the school and they said Mom never picked up Marissa,” Jewell said. “Who knows why she had to be there at that time? We say God needed another angel in heaven.”
Robinette recalled how the Sacramento television stations picked up the story. “It was a three-ring circus,” she said. “They still call us every year, bringing it back up.”
Granddaughter Marissa Jewell was 11 years old.
“I was close to her. My parents worked a lot. I was always with her,” Marissa said. “It was a big change.”
Holidays and special occasions still are difficult.
Marissa, now 16, graduated from eighth grade soon after the shooting, without the woman who would have been so proud of her.
“I cried the whole day,” Marissa recalled. “This year’s Christmas wasn’t so horribly hard.”
The county Sheriff’s Office closed ranks around the family — Feldman’s son-in-law, Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Jewell, worked at the county jail at the time. He was transferred out the next day.
County Sheriff Keith Royal “would personally come out here to our house in Chicago Park and make sure I was OK.,” said Robinette, now 39.
The family is managing, she said.
“It hurts all of us in different ways. It’s less than when it happened, but it’s still hard,” Marissa said. “We live in her house. There are pictures everywhere.”
If her grandmother had been there, perhaps Marissa would have done better in high school. It’s hard to know. But now she’s thriving in an independent study program, enjoys science, and is excited about studying anthropology at California State University at Chico.
She’s interested in forensic anthropology, the science of looking at bones and other evidence, and figuring out how they got the way they are.
— — —
Daisy Switzer had recently finished her master’s degree in psychology. The 34-year-old single mother was clocking up hours at the Nevada County Behavioral Health office as an intern for her therapist degree. Her office was steps down the hall from where Scott Thorpe shot three other people, killing two of them.
“I was close enough to hear the bodies fall,” Switzer recalled. “Mr. Thorpe tried my door. … I could see the handle turn.”
The door was locked, but Switzer could think only of escaping. She touched the gold heart necklace her 11-year-old daughter, Emily, had given her, said a prayer, hung out the small, second-story window and dropped onto the cement.
Even now, the window doesn’t look so very high. Yet the fall broke bones in 38 places, including Switzer’s feet, legs, pelvis, ribs and spine, and displaced spinal disks. A break in the first vertebra exposed the spinal cord — “a breath away from paraplegia,” Switzer said.
For nearly an hour, Switzer lay there in the rain while police secured the building. “I could hear Daisy screaming,” said case manager Kim Cuisinot, who was in the building nearby.
Switzer spent a year recovering. Some of her bones had to be wired back together. Priests, ministers, shamans and monks came to see her and pray.
Emily’s teachers kept an eye on the child. Another mother, Betsie Hill, noticed the girl had nothing to do.
“She went out of her way to take Emily to the children’s theater group, to get her away from all this stress, to make sure she had a magical world,” Switzer recalled.
“I love that about a small community. There’s so much here that’s generous and fabulous and kind.”
She eventually went back to work at Behavioral Health to finish her clinical hours and earn a doctoral degree. She kept a rope ladder by her desk.
During that time, wooden blocks were nailed into all the window sashes. The blocks prevent the windows from being opened more than a few inches.
A memorial plaque was placed on a table outside the building where the shooting took place. Switzer’s name was left off the list of victims. She walked past it daily for two years.
Yet Switzer lived for her work. She became part of the Mental Health Court team, people who work intensely with the mentally ill who get into legal trouble.
“I had clients that were successful, but I was really hard on people. I was up to speed on every single case. This was the thing I woke up for,” Switzer recalled.
Switzer left the department in September 2004. Not long after, a new plaque with her name replaced the first one on the memorial table out in the parking lot.
She runs into former clients. She lives for those times when the person flies over to her in the grocery store, gives her a hug, tells her things are going well.
Others weigh on her heart.
“People that I had stabilized, I’ve seen them on the street. They’re drooling and they look terrible,” Switzer said. “It’s an awful, awful thing to see somebody sick whom you know can be well.”
Switzer now is 40 and 2 inches shorter. She has gone through five surgeries. Changes in atmospheric pressure make her bones ache. Her X-rays scare doctors.
“That jump wasn’t supposed to hurt! Jackie Chan does it! I’ve seen him!” Switzer said.
Her eyes squeezed to slits and her full, silly laugh rang out in a Victorian office across from the Nevada County courthouse. A reprint hangs above the fireplace: Rosie the Riveter in her strong-arm pose saying, “We can do it!”
Switzer earned her psychologist license this summer. She is starting a practice as a forensic psychologist.
That’s the doctor who tries to figure out whether people can handle getting custody of their children, managing their own affairs, qualifying for Social Security or whether they could become addicted or violent. Whether someone like Scott Thorpe is too mentally ill to stand trial or could be guilty, but insane.
“Great work when you can get it,” quipped Switzer.
After the shooting, “the doctors said she’d never sit up,” recalled her mother, lawyer Jayne Kelly. “On New Year’s Eve, she danced.”
— — —
Michael Markle had grown up in Marysville but took a job as assistant manager at Lyon’s Restaurant in Grass Valley.
On Jan. 10, 2001, Scott Thorpe killed two people at the Nevada County Behavioral Health office, then headed to Lyon’s. Thorpe, in his delusions brought on by severe mental illness, thought the food he ate there was being poisoned. He walked to the kitchen and asked to speak to the manager and meant to kill him.
Thorpe, instead, shot Markle, who had been on the job three days. He was 24.
His mother, Margie Markle, is now 61. She recently retired from teaching kindergarten. She keeps busy: she’s in her 14th year on the local school board, she volunteers at the schools, and she has her daughter and two grandchildren nearby. Keeping busy fills the quiet times.
“Too many real silent moments or moments by myself are not good because your mind wanders, and you think, ‘What if?’” Markle said. “There’s no end to it. Nothing brings him back, but you learn to get on. There is a peace.”
Markle is a lifelong Presbyterian and taught at a Catholic school. That background — in which two fundamental truths are sin and the undeserved forgiveness of sin — probably helped her forgive Thorpe, she said.
“Forgiveness is very important. If you forgive, then you don’t become bitter,” Markle said.
That insight flashed through her mind’s blur shortly after the shooting.
“I remember driving down the street, thinking to myself, ‘I’ve got to come to grips with this or I’m going to become bitter. I’m going to have to forgive this man.”
Going to Thorpe’s sanity hearings helped her find peace.
“The more I heard, the more I realized this man was not out to get my son. My son just happened to be there,” Markle said. “This man was fighting his own demons.”
The family remembers Michael Markle on a daily basis, often in small ways. On his birthday, they go to his favorite Chinese restaurant. At the high school reunion, classmates asked for a photo of him to display at the party.
“His best friend named his first-born after him. Mike was an honorary best man at the wedding,” Markle said.
Her nephew, Evan Furr, was 8 years old and loved his fun-loving Uncle Mike. Now 12, Evan regularly reminds the family that it’s time to visit the cemetery and change the flowers.
Michael Markle had a son, Austin, who will be 8 years old on Jan. 12. The boy now lives out of state and Markle has no contact with him, but she guards the hope that she will again. She saves things for him, things that were his father’s.
Furr’s sister also is 8. When Allyson Furr sees a balloon go up into the sky, “She says, ‘The balloons go up to keep Uncle Mike happy,’” Markle said. “Mike would never have wanted us to stay in one place and be bitter. Mike was always the one who said, ‘Come on, stop stressing!’
“Mike is very much alive in all of us.”
— — —
Richard Senuty was a cook at Lyon’s Restaurant in Grass Valley.
Later on the day Scott Thorpe opened fire in the restaurant kitchen, Senuty recalled the man who had come in about two months before.
“He was complaining that we were poisoning the food,” Senuty, then 34, told reporters from his bed at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
Senuty said at the time that Thorpe first shot assistant manager Michael Markle, then turned to the cooks by the stove and told them, “Get out of here.”
Senuty and another cook scrambled through the foot-high, pass-through window, underneath the warming lights. Senuty ran out the back of the restaurant toward his truck. He reached inside for his cellular telephone to call 911, unaware that Thorpe was following him.
Thorpe shot the cook three times in the arm and abdomen, then turned, reloaded and walked away.
After the trial, Thorpe’s family reached out to console the victims, including Senuty.
“He wound up consoling us,” said Sharon Thorpe, Scott Thorpe’s sister-in-law. “He had a whole lot of intestinal trouble. He had trouble going to the bathroom, yet he was concerned about us.”
“He was such a sweet, sweet man,” recalled Daisy Switzer, a former intern at the Nevada County Behavioral Health department, where Thorpe had received treatment.
Senuty was unmarried, had no children and lived in a cabin on his parent’s property off Lime Kiln Road. He later moved out of the area. Attempts by The Union to locate him were unsuccessful.
“I’m not surprised” that Senuty left the area, Sharon Thorpe said. “He just wanted to put it behind him.
“I wish him well.”
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