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Guns and mental illness, an ‘800 pound fish on a two ounce line’

A mourner pays respect to the Cafe Racer shooting victims, May 30, 2012. Ian Stawicki killed five people in Seattle before turning the gun on himself that day. His father supports legislation that prevents mentally ill people from getting their hands on guns. (Robert Sorbo photo)

Walter’s son was smart, but struggled in school.

“He had a lot of learning disabilities. He’d come home crying,” Walt recalls.

Whether it was because classmates picked on him in school, older kids pushed him around on the bus, or a teacher labeling him “stupid,” Ian seemed to have a lot of reasons to be upset.

“Before high school, 7th or 8th grade in a south end school, he came home just bawling his head off one day. I grappled with him, took him to the floor and had my wife call the police,” he says. “About a half hour later he started calming down. We never found out what that was about.”

As he got older, Walt suspected his son probably had some kind of mental illness.

“He was for the most part sane, but when he wasn’t he certainly wasn’t,” he says.

Walt and his wife were never afraid of Ian.

If he started saying things most of us would consider bizarre, they always managed to calm their son down.

“His mother and I would say, ‘No, no, no, that’s not how you talk about people’ and he would stop. He would pull himself together.

Walt tried to get counseling services for his son as he approached his 20s and then 30s. He always thought he’d have more time to get him professional help.

Time ran out May 30, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.

“9-1-1 what are you reporting?”

“I’m at Roosevelt and 59th at Cafe Racer, there’s been a shooting. Somebody came in and shot a bunch of people. I’m hiding in the bathroom.”

“Hold on sir.”

“We need help right away.”

Walt Stawicki got a phone call from his wife.

“She said, ‘Get down here’ I just saw our son on TV,’ Stawicki says as he relives the moment and lets out a heavy sigh. “‘What happened?’ ‘He shot people.”

Ian Stawicki took the lives of four people near the University District and one woman in downtown Seattle. Then, surrounded by police in West Seattle, he killed himself.

Walt’s struggle to guide, control, and help his son for 40 years was like handling an “800 pound fish on a two ounce line.”

The line snapped.

“I don’t want to do another sob story about me and my experience,” he says. “I want to talk about what we can do. That’s what keeps me floating is that there’s something more and I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself and retire and hide.”

What would have helped Ian Stawicki and prevented the murders of five people in Seattle last May?

Walt Stawicki thinks the national “grand standing” about gun control and banning weapons makes people feel as though something is being accomplished.

Despite Ian Stawicki’s mental instability, he had no problem getting his hands on weapons.

“He had a concealed-carry permit. He, like myself, could walk into a store say, ‘I want that one,’ lay the money down, show the permit and walk out with that pistol,” says Stawicki.

He supports New York’s legislation which requires mental health counselors to report when someone makes a credible threat involving weapons.

There is a flaw with the new law, he says. It assumes there is a solid system in place to handle the mentally ill. That’s not the case, in his experience.

“We need to have assisted outpatient treatment with a court mandate that has a hammer that can drop,” he says. “You can either obey and live your life out there, or you can be locked up until you come around and understand what’s going on.”


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