Victims, families: Lives changed forever
January 9, 2011
On Jan. 10, 2001, it didn’t take more than a few hours for Scott Thorpe to scar the psyche of a community – and to permanently alter the lives of many western Nevada County residents.
Ten years later, those who survived the shootings – and the families of those who didn’t – still struggle on a near-daily basis.
Pearlie Mae Feldman, 68, and intern Laura Wilcox, 19, were the first victims, fatally shot that morning by Thorpe at the county Behavioral Health Department.
Feldman was a caretaker for her 81-year-old husband, Emil Feldman, and her 78-year-old brother-in-law, George Feldman.
She had just left George with a nurse at the Health, Education and Welfare building – which now stands vacant on Willow Valley Road, just east of Nevada City. Emil, who was recovering from a broken hip, waited in the car outside.
Feldman was talking to Wilcox to make George’s next appointment when Thorpe walked in and started shooting.
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“It was devastating to our family,” said her daughter, Robinette Jewell. “But we’re hanging in there. We get out of town every year on the anniversary – it gets our minds off it.”
“To lose a loved one to a violent death just shatters, just changes, your whole outlook,” said Wilcox’s mother, Amanda Wilcox. “It’s forever. I’ll never see her. Her friends are getting married now, and we wonder where she would be (in her life).”
Judith Edzards was sitting at a desk behind Wilcox; their office was behind a pane of ordinary window glass the county installed after employees had asked for a bullet-proof barrier. She had hired Laura Wilcox.
Edzards was shot in the head, through the lungs, in the esophagus and in the right shoulder. Six years ago, her doctors took a part of her stomach and turned it into an esophagus. Five years ago, she told The Union she had to learn to walk again.
“I still suffer, but I’m doing well,” she said a few days ago, adding she would prefer media coverage to focus on Laura’s Law, which grew out of the tragedy and allows counties to order treatment for the severely and dangerously mentally ill.
Daisy Switzer was working as an intern toward her therapist degree; her office was steps down the hall from where Thorpe was shooting.
Thorpe tried the locked door of her office, and Switzer decided to escape by dropping out the small, second-story window. The fall broke bones in 38 places, including Switzer’s feet, legs, pelvis, ribs and spine, and displaced spinal disks.
“I am doing well – that’s fair to say,” she said.
Switzer now works as a forensic psychologist in western Nevada County, offering consultations, treatment planning and evaluation of criminal defendants. She focuses on insanity defense, trial competency and risk assessment.
“If you need something done right, you need to get up and do it yourself,” she said. “I want to close the loopholes.”
After the shooting, it became easier for her to focus on the criminal courts, she said.
“That’s where the work needed to be done,” she explained.
Ann Heinrich was in the kitchen with Pamela Chase, a fellow employee with whom Thorpe was known to be obsessed. The two hid in the room as Thorpe walked by them twice.
Heinrich never did return to work at Behavioral Health; she said recently, “I knew I couldn’t go back.”
Heinrich is now a family therapist practicing privately in Nevada City; she does a lot of trauma work, she said.
“Some things … are forever changed,” Heinrich said. “I am more of an introvert now, a homebody.”
Heinrich’s recovery involved a type of therapy known as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing – a process she found so effective she uses it with her own clients.
“It’s quirky, but it works,” she said. “It turns traumatic memories into normal memories. When it works on you, you go, ‘Wow! This is powerful!'”
Many triggers remain for Heinrich to navigate, including loud or sudden sounds. Thorpe was wearing a plaid jacket that day, a particularly difficult trigger, because, as Heinrich pointed out with a rueful laugh, a lot of men in Nevada County wear plaid coats.
“It took me a long time to feel safe,” she said.
Chase could not be located.
Later on the morning of Jan. 10, Thorpe headed to Lyon’s Restaurant in Grass Valley, where he thought the food he ate was being poisoned. (The site now houses Lumberjack’s restaurant.) He walked to the kitchen and asked to speak to the manager.
Thorpe instead shot and killed Michael Markle, who had been the assistant manager for three days. He was 24.
His mother, Margie Markle, lives in Marysville; Markle’s son, Austin, will be 18 on Jan. 12.
“We remember him all the time – he has not been forgotten,” Margie Markle said. “We’re doing OK. Going to (Thorpe’s) hearing gave me some closure; I forgave him.
“It’s about … being able to move on,” Markle said. “Otherwise, you tie yourself into a lot of bitterness.”
Richard Senuty was one of the cooks at Lyon’s; he ran out the back of the restaurant toward his truck, unaware that Thorpe was following him. Thorpe shot him three times in the arm and abdomen.
Senuty could not be located; he is believed to be living in Ft. Bragg.
Thorpe eventually was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was sentenced to life at Napa State Hospital, where he receives therapy for his mental condition – which was lacking in the weeks leading up to his rampage.
“Scott’s doing pretty well,” said his sister-in-law, Sharon Thorpe, of the Sacramento area. “He was client of the year in 2009. He’s improved to the highest position he can be: He’s in an open unit.
“How tragic is that, that it took the shootings to get him to the place where he needed to be?”
His family had been unhappy with the treatment Thorpe had been receiving prior to the shootings.
And they support Laura’s Law.
“Scott didn’t meet the criteria to be helped by Laura’s Law, but we’re so thankful the law is in place to help others receive more care that is so desperately needed,” Sharon Thorpe added.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail email@example.com or call (530) 477-4229.