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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Are the mentally ill falling through the cracks?

Mentally_ill The Kia Johnson case -- in which a Wilkinsburg woman with mental illness was charged with killing a pregnant teenager and stealing her baby -- drew worldwide news coverage this summer.

That startling homicide, though, was just one of at least 10 serious incidents involving local residents with mental illness that have occurred in Allegheny County neighborhoods in less than a year. Known as sentinel events, they are tracked by the state Department of Public Welfare. Officials here and around the country are struggling with how to prevent such violence or other problems.

In one case, Shadyside resident Terrence Andrews was arrested in the stabbing death of culinary student Lisa Maas. In another, Nang "Ricky" Nguyen was shot dead by police in Oakland after he brandished a meat cleaver. And Anthony Fallert drowned after he apparently walked away from a community mental health program on the South Side and jumped or fell from the Birmingham Bridge.

Andrea Curry-Demus, charged with the Kia Johnson homicide, had a history of mental illness and previous arrests for other crimes, including stabbing a woman and kidnapping a baby.

The series of sentinel events here, as well as incidents elsewhere such as the killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech in April 2007 by a gunman with a history of mental health problems, have left officials, grieving families and others to ask: Are people falling through the cracks of the community mental health system? And what might be done to prevent such problems from occurring? [Mark Godsey]

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