‘They acted like Laura never existed’
Nick and Amanda Wilcox blinked back tears now and then Tuesday, as they strongly condemned Nevada County for the death of their daughter at the hands of a mentally ill gunman.
In a packed Board of Supervisors chambers, former and present supervisors and the county executive officer officially apologized to the Wilcoxes for 19-year-old Laura’s death on Jan. 10, 2001.
The board also agreed to enforce Laura’s Law – written to get outpatient mental services for those in need – if Proposition 63 state funding passes in November.
Amanda Wilcox noted it was the first official apology by the county to the family since Scott Harlan Thorpe shot Laura four times with a semiautomatic handgun at the county Behavioral Health Department. Thorpe shot and killed two other people that day: Pearlie Mae Feldman at the same department and Michael Markle at Lyon’s Restaurant. Thorpe wounded two others.
While the Wilcoxes made it clear they resented the county’s negligence in not dealing with Thorpe’s behavior before his rampage, they also took time to endorse Proposition 63, the Mental Health Initiative designed to bring consistent services to people across California.
Nick Wilcox said he understood the randomness of his daughter’s death, but “what happened that day was indeed predictable and therefore entirely preventable.”
Amanda Wilcox admonished then-county psychiatrist Dr. George Heitzman for not hospitalizing Thorpe after learning the gunman:
• Was not taking his anti-psychotic medication.
• Had an arsenal of firearms.
• Smoked marijuana.
• Had developed a sexual fixation on a metal health crisis worker.
• Had delusions the FBI was plotting to harm him.
Nick Wilcox also said, had Heitzman listened to Thorpe’s parents, he would have known they were seeking intervention for him because he had a criminal assault record and had turned his home into a military bunker to repel the FBI.
Ironically, Nick Wilcox said, Thorpe’s family said once he started taking his medication, his faculties returned and he fully understood the horror he had wrought.
The less than $60,000 the Wilcox family received for Laura’s death, Amanda Wilcox said, was little compensation for losing a shining star of the community, who had been valedictorian of her high school class and was contemplating student body president at her college.
“We also truly believe the county was negligent,” Amanda Wilcox said. “We never heard from the chain of command at Behavioral Health, and the Department of Human Services, nor from the County Administrator … they acted like Laura never existed.”
County Executive Officer Rick Haffey also read an official acknowledgment regarding the violence of Jan. 10, 2001, as the county agreed to in its settlement of the Wilcoxes’ lawsuit.
The statement read:
“The Nevada County Board of Supervisors expresses its deep regret about the tragic circumstances that unfolded January 10, 2001, causing grievous injury to many, and the death of three cherished individuals – Laura Wilcox, Pearlie Mae Feldman, and Michael Markle.
“The County acknowledges that it failed to predict and therefore prevent the violence perpetrated by a mentally ill patient.”
Haffey apologized “personally and professionally,” to the Wilcoxes. Supervisor Sue Horne apologized for the county having never sent a letter of apology or condolence, and supervisors Peter Van Zant and Barbara Green also expressed apologies.
Former supervisors Bruce Conklin and Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, who were on the board at the time of the disaster, also acknowledged their sorrow.
Martin said she was “horrified at the insensitivity” of the county in not better reacting to the shooting and hoped the day would begin healing in the matter.
Survivor Judith Edzards was shot three times by Thorpe and said while she was at Behavioral Health, it was inadequately run, with poor heating and cooling “and filthy conditions.”
“You failed the residents and the employees of this county,” Edzards said at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting.
Daisy Switzer, who jumped out of the county mental health office window after hearing the sound of gunfire, said she broke 28 bones in her body but was still working there until recently and saw signs of improvement.
Thorpe is being held in Napa State Hospital, where he is serving what likely will be a life term after being found not guilty by reason of insanity last year. Had he been determined sane, he could have been sentenced to life at a nonmedical, high-security prison.
The Laura L. Wilcox Memorial Building
– Is named after Laura Wilcox, 19, who died after being shot by a mentally ill gunman at the county Behavioral Health office Jan. 10, 2001.
– Will house the county child mental-health office and the child protective services in the same building, the first known match-up of such services in the same structure.
– Was dedicated Tuesday by former state Assemblywoman Helen Thomson, who sponsored and got passed the “Laura’s Law” mental health bill in Laura’s memory.
– Is at 208 Sutton Way in Grass Valley.
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