Tragedies Reveal Legal, Health Care Lapses

UPDATE April 3, 2009: As authorities work to secure the site of a deadly shooting rampage in Binghamton, New York that claimed the lives of more than a dozen people, questions concerning the tragic incident continue to mount. In the days to come, one question will be paramount: Why?

In 2007, following a number of unrelated shootings, ABC News investigated the possible causes of these tragedies. That report follows.

In past incidents -- including the Virginia Tech massacre in April and the Trolley Square Mall shooting in February -- the perpetrator was later described as a loner, an outcast.

"All have that same theme of alienation and isolation," said Beverly Hills-based forensic psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman. "Many of these shooters have been picked on by their peers or felt 'out of the loop.'"

"I think much of this stems from how we've become a much more isolation-oriented society," said Carolyn Wolf, senior partner at Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Greenberg, Formato & Einiger, LLP -- a mental health law practice in New York. "With computers and all of the technology that we now have available, people are much more easily able to be isolated, and with isolation comes withdrawal -- withdrawal from friends and family, as well as withdrawal from the medical system."

But mental health experts say these tragedies have something else in common -- they all point to a mental health system that minimizes the chances that these outsiders can get access to proper psychological services, which would possibly stop the tragedies before they occur.

"The gamut of mental health services has been lacking severely across the country," Wolf said.

"There are many dollars that are allocated for physical services, but mental health has been significantly overlooked," she said. "What all of this highlights is a very significant need for increased funds to help people who suffer from mental illness."

And it's not just a funding problem, they say. The set of laws governing intervention for mental health concerns are a patchwork across the country. New York, Wolf notes, has a state law providing for mental health warrants in which people can go through the courts to have their loved ones ordered to mental health treatment if they fear that they could become dangerous.

In Florida, legislation known as the Baker Act allows judges, law enforcement officials or mental health professionals to order individuals to receive mental health care if they are determined to pose a danger to themselves or others.

But not all states have such laws. And even in these states, admitting an individual in a potentially dangerous state of mental health is no simple task.

"You always have to meet certain legal standards in order to admit someone for mental treatment," Wolf said. "A person has to be deemed dangerous to themselves or others before they will intervene."

The solution, Wolf said, appears to lie in a combination of improvements, both within and outside the system, from increased funding, to better legislation, to a better overall understanding among the public of mental health issues.

"People need to become more educated as to what some of the signs of illness are, as well as the options for treatment," she said.

With this in mind, let's take a closer look at the Westroads Mall shooting, as well as other high-profile cases of mass shooting in the past.

Dec. 5, 2007: The Westroads Mall Shooting



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