Patient Kills Psychiatrist in Murder-Suicide

A psychiatrist is murdered every 2 to 3 years in the U.S., says researcher.

ByABC News
July 25, 2011, 2:48 PM

July 25, 2011 — -- Dr. Mark Lawrence, a Virginia psychiatrist who was killed by a patient in a murder-suicide Friday, was remembered by his colleagues as a gifted psychiatrist and mentor to hundreds of therapists.

"He helped people focus on their own strengths. It was such a hopeful vision," said Dr. Cynthia Margolies, who worked with Lawrence at the Center for Healing and Imagery, a school Lawrence founded 27 years ago to provide continuing education to therapists.

Barbara Newman, 62, shot Lawrence, 71, when she showed up at his home office in McLean Friday afternoon for her appointment. Newman then turned the gun on herself.

Police continue to investigate and have not released any additional information, said Fairfax County Police Department spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell.

Dr. Mel Stern, a psychiatrist and longtime friend of Lawrence's, told the Washington Post that Lawrence had expressed concern about Newman when Stern and Lawrence met for lunch the day before his death.

Many mental health professionals report they worry about their safety at times, Dr. John Lion, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told ABC News.

Lion, who has studied violence against mental health professionals, and has assisted Maryland's state mental hospitals in developing ways to handle patients who might pose a physical threat to their therapists, said a mental health professional is murdered by a patient every two to three years.

Last year, a New York City psychotherapist was killed by a patient wielding a meat cleaver.

In 2006, a Maryland psychiatrist was beaten to death in his office by a patient.

"You want to screen patients you see in private settings," said Lion. "Beyond that, you can't do much."

Although he was semi-retired, Lawrence, who attended Harvard Medical School and trained at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, continued to see a handful of patients in his home office.

"He had a deep faith in peoples' capacity to heal," said Margolies, who has received an outpouring of emails from people who had been touched by her colleague.

"It feels so unreal. I can't wrap my mind around it," said one email, which Margolies read over the phone. Another writer said she would miss Lawrence's "loving wisdom."

Outside his therapeutic work, Lawrence lived an active life, Margolies said -- he was learning how to wakeboard, played tennis and snow skied.

"He was at such a good place in his life," said Margolies. "He had so much to give."

Lawrence leaves behind a wife, daughter and a 3-year-old grandson.