Little has been disclosed about whether Jeffrey Yao gave signs that his apparent mental illness was worsening before he used a kitchen knife to kill Deane Kenny Stryker, 22. Should he have been committed to a psychiatric hospital?
When a young man well-known to police and neighbors for bizarre and scary behavior suddenly stabbed a former schoolmate to death in Winchester, Ma., last month, many people asked why someone so seemingly dangerous was allowed to roam freely. It’s a natural question that has no easy answer, the Boston Globe reports. Little has been disclosed about whether Jeffrey Yao gave any signs that his apparent mental illness was worsening in the months before he used a kitchen knife to kill Deane Kenny Stryker, 22. Should he have been committed to a psychiatric hospital before it came to that? It’s possible that he had been.
It’s not now known what actions were taken after the five occasions between March 2013 and last September when police took him to a hospital. The behavior by the 23-year-old Yao that drew police attention included property damage, an attempted break-in, threats of suicide, yelling, and staring. Strange and annoying behavior doesn’t rise to the level of justifying involuntary commitment, said Paul Zeizel, a forensic psychologist who evaluates criminal defendants. “It’s really hard to say, ‘This guy’s going to be really dangerous in three months.’ We don’t know,” he said. The most dangerous people are those who have paranoid hallucinations in which they are commanded to take actions, especially if they also abuse drugs, Zeizel said. Patients never suddenly “snap,” he said, but their heightening paranoia may not always be evident to those around them. Mental health professionals say the focus on hospitalization misses the more relevant question: What care did Yao and his parents receive at home? Massachusetts is among a handful of states without a provision for mandating outpatient treatment, a possible solution for people who cycle in and out of hospitals and don’t follow their treatment plans.