Friends Saw Creigh Deeds' Son Struggle With Bipolar Disorder Before Killing

Gus Deeds' downward spiral seemed to begin after Creigh Deeds' 2009 campaign.

November 21, 2013, 3:27 PM
PHOTO: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds spends time with his son Gus, left, on the road to Halifax, Va., between campaign events, Sept. 25, 2009.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds spends time with his son Gus, left, on the road to Halifax, Va., between campaign events, Sept. 25, 2009.
Hyunsoo Leo Kim/The Virginian-Pilot/AP Photo

Nov. 21, 2013— -- Before stabbing his politician father and taking his own life outside of his home, Gus Deeds, 24, struggled with a bipolar disorder that had utterly changed his life a few years ago, his friends told ABC News.

Those who know him say he idolized his father, a state senator and Democratic nominee for governor Creigh Deeds. He was a brilliant musician who could pick up just about any instrument and play. And he was a kind soul who wore his heart on his sleeve.

But sometime after his father's loss in that governor race and his parents' subsequent divorce in 2010, the younger Deeds fell into a downward spiral of mental illness, two friends told ABC News.

"Eventually it got to the point where everyone... you couldn't ignore it. It was obvious he was going through a difficult time," Tony Walters, who has been friends with Gus since they were children in Bath County, Va., told ABC News on Wednesday. "I don't know where they ended up taking him but he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and did get treatment for a while and I know he was on medication."

The details of what happened Nov. 19 in the home Gus shared with his father and stepmother are still sketchy. But it appears that in an altercation outside of their rural Virginia home, Gus stabbed his father brutally in the head and chest before taking his own life with a rifle.

But for those who knew Gus, they never imagined that the kind, big-hearted young man could take a violent turn.

Yet he was clearly deeply troubled. In the fall of 2010, the signs were all there: paranoia, deep suspicions about schemes to undermine or conspire against him, manic highs and deep lows.

"He seemed very sort of scattered, very different. He had strange paranoias," Walters said. "And he was imagining different schemes against him; suspicions of people around him…it really seemed like he was going through a very difficult time."

At one point, Gus said that God told him to drive to the Pacific and he did.

"He would say it was a spiritual thing that he felt a calling that just needed to go and drive west, see the ocean and when he came back that's when he really, he was a different Gus than he was," said Adam Michaels, a friend who worked at Nature Camp with Gus for several summers. "His personality had changed a lot, he was pretty manic for a while."

"He was just as kind of goofy and charismatic as he always was but a little more wild I guess."

The day before the Deeds' story took a tragic turn, Creigh Deeds sought an Emergency Custody Order, according to reports in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Washington Post. But either because beds were not available or they weren't found in the legal six-hour time frame, Gus wasn't hospitalized.

It appears that an identical systemic problem was flagged in a 2012 inspector general report.

G. Douglas Bevelacqua, inspector general for the office of behavioral health and developmental services, confirmed to ABC News that they have opened an investigation into why the system failed in this case.

"We are opening an investigation because the code of Virginia. Section 2.2-309.1 requires that we investigate incidents or allegations of abuse neglect or inadequate care of people receiving services from behavioral health providers," he said.

Especially in the more remote rural parts of the state, like where the Deeds lived in Bath County, it is even more difficult to navigate the mental health system labyrinth.

"In Virginia we know in 2010 the inspector general found 200 people who were put out in the streets, the hospital called it 'streeting.' It was so common, because they didn't have beds," said Pete Earley, a former Washington Post reporter who documented his battle to secure mental health care for his son in a book "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness."

By summer 2012, Gus returned to Nature Camp where he was a counselor working full time for months with children. He was on his medication then, he told Walters, who at the time would have been Gus' supervisor as the head of male staff at Nature Camp.

At times his old personality shined through. He captivated campers with made-up stories about mythical rocks and improvised songs.

But he had also changed dramatically.

"When he came back to camp he was almost unrecognizably different," Michael said. "The campers thought he was a different guy, our counselor friends... it was tough to see him change so much."

He returned to school at the College of William and Mary and dove into his studies and music.

"A huge personality—always contributing, saying things that no one else could think of," said Brian Hulse, an associate professor of music at William and Mary who taught Gus. "He could come up with stories. He was really proud of his heritage in the Appalachian region."

And this spring, as he prepared for his senior year, Gus had plans for his senior project—a musical composition, that Hulse would have advised.

He returned to Nature Camp for a second consecutive summer in 2013, a sign Walters and his friends took as an indication that he had made enormous strides. Over the summer he even won an award for his service from the camp director and was looking forward to returning to school.

He did return to school, but only briefly before withdrawing from William and Mary last month and returning home to live with his father and stepmother.

When tragedy struck on Tuesday, Gus's many friends were left with more questions than answers.

"He was one of the best people I ever knew and that you know he was a wonderful person who in a very tragic way got sick and struggled with this awful mental illness in the way someone else would struggle with cancer," Walters said. "And it was this disease that killed Gus. It was a complete utter tragedy and the loss of one of the best friends I will ever have."

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