The deposition of the mother of the schizophrenic man who shot six people at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic shows a woman who visited her son four times in Pittsburgh over a period of 10 months, kept in regular email and phone contact with him, and who repeatedly encouraged him to seek and sustain psychiatric treatment.
But the words of Susan Shick -- who at the time of the March 8, 2012, shooting was on a personal boat in the Caribbean -- also connote pragmatism and her belief that the only way her son could truly be helped was if he recognized the need himself.
"I think the overwhelming issue here was not that he was feeling abandoned by us, but that he needed to get the psychiatric care he needed," she said in the Oct. 30 deposition. "And I couldn't compel that, my husband couldn't compel that, nor could the doctors.
Deposition by mother of Western Psych shooter made public
A judge's ruling has made public the deposition provided by Susan Shick, mother of John Shick, the man who shot six people at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic last year. These are excerpts of that deposition. (12/4/2013)
"He needed to recognize that and take action. What we tried to do is make it as easy as possible for him to get the assistance."
But, John Shick did not follow through with that treatment and instead walked into Western Psych in Oakland with two handguns, killing one person, before responding officers shot and killed him.
Now, Mrs. Shick, along with UPMC and others, is being sued by several victims, including Kathryn Leight, for failing to take the appropriate steps to have her son involuntarily committed, even though, they allege, she knew him to be dangerous.
Mrs. Shick made a request last month for a protective order for her deposition and the emails exchanged with her son, saying that to release them would both violate her privacy and taint the future jury in the civil case.
But a judge on Wednesday ruled that neither the deposition nor the emails should be protected by the court.
In a three-page opinion, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. said Mrs. Shick "has not shown how her interests will be furthered through restrictions on disclosure."
In addition, he said "the public has an important interest in observing the tragic event that is the subject of this litigation," and that "the victims of the shooting and their relatives have an important interest in observing the event."
The seven-hour deposition shows that Mrs. Shick was heavily involved in her 30-year-old son's life -- helping him select and then move in to an Oakland apartment; assisting him with his finances and in obtaining Social Security disability payments each month; attending a meeting with him at Duquesne University when it was clear he was about to be kicked out of his graduate program and seeking out various medical specialists for problems he claimed to have had, ranging from his feet to his kidneys to his stool.
But Mrs. Shick also repeatedly in the deposition refused to admit that some of her son's ramblings were signs of deterioration.
For example, he wrote in an email to his parents Sept. 21, 2011, "on Saturday night during the symphony, the left half of my face felt cold and clammy. Sunday and Monday passed without incident. On Tuesday I woke up with one pimple on the lower, (my right) side of face. Tuesday, I woke with two pimples on the lower, (my right) side of face. I, my right anatomical left? There is limited pain, but having my story straight would help me return to my work."
When asked by Ms. Leight's attorney, Mark Homyak, if Mrs. Shick perceived anything odd from that, she answered, "Well, I thought he was overly focused on his health, and that when he sent us things like this, we would encourage him to go back to Shadyside to talk to [his doctor] about it and get [his doctor] involved."
"Did you know at that time when John's psychiatric condition began to deteriorate and/or was deteriorated, that he would begin to speak and write in nonsensical ways?" Mr. Homyak asked.
"Well, we had received emails from him that seemed nonsensical," Mrs. Shick answered. "I mean, this one, to me, he is complaining about pimples on his face. I'm not sure it says much more than that."
Later, she said that maybe her son was "a lousy typist."
During the fall of 2011, John Shick was enrolled in the graduate program for biology at Duquesne -- from which he was eventually expelled for harassing fellow female students.
When he was asked to fill out his medical records there, Mrs. Shick suggested to him that he put on the forms that he had previously been treated for depression, but not that he was schizophrenic, and not that he had been involuntarily hospitalized for the condition five times.
In an email to him July 29, 2011, she wrote, "I would not put any hospitalization down."
"Didn't you think it was likely he was going to have some sort of a psychotic or schizophrenic incident while at Duquesne?" Mr. Homyak asked.
"Not if he took medication. If he took his medication, he was in pretty good control and could function," she said.
Over the months before the shooting, John Shick's emails continually took a darker, more abusive tone, including phrases directed to his mother like "sibilant brown cow," and "Send money idiot."
By late October 2011, Mrs. Shick started working toward getting her son an appointment with a psychiatrist at Western Psych. During his first appointment, John Shick said he had erectile dysfunction and spoke nothing about his schizophrenia.
By November, Mrs. Shick began to offer him a deal -- if he would begin treatment again, and continue with it for at least three months, she and her husband would pay for a trip for him for China, where he'd always wanted to go. She also told her son that if he sought treatment, she and his father would pay off his escalating credit card debt.
The deposition does not indicate if he ever accepted either proposition.
By January, John Shick told his parents he was going to revoke their access to his medical records, writing, "You are bad parents."
Mrs. Shick responded first by explaining that she and her husband, Laurence, were leaving for the Bahamas and would not be reachable on their regular cell phone numbers. She goes on to give him advice about his medical records and co-pays and credit card accounts.
Mrs. Shick, who exhibited patience throughout her messages with her son, closed the email with: "We love you very much. I know you are feeling sad and abandoned by us but we are trying to provide for you and give you unconditional love regardless of your behavior. Our love is always there and we are ready and willing to assist. Keep that in mind, but do yourself a big favor and get the help you need from Western Psychiatric. Love, Mom and Dad."
During the deposition, Mr. Homyak asked Mrs. Shick how she knew her son felt sad and abandoned.
"Well, I didn't, but I assume that was one of the reasons that he was reacting the way he was doing."
"You mean, because you and Larry were going off to sail to the Bahamas?" the attorney continued.
"No. In fact, he liked the fact that we were sailing," she answered. "He wanted to continue to have us do that. But I think he was feeling fairly low, wasn't feeling well physically, I think the schizophrenia was bothering him. My assumption as a mother was he was feeling sad and abandoned, and I wanted to share with him that we recognize that, but there were things only he could work on to get out of this."
Mrs. Shick said she considered returning to Pittsburgh to help her son but decided it was his ultimate responsibility to seek help.
The last email she received from John Shick detailed in the deposition was written the day before the shootings.
"You are murderers. I have already reported the doctors refusing to help or treat worms to the police, including Interpol. There will be no one helping other than ruffians employed by UPMC to shoot me in the head while I am sleeping in my bed at 3:00 a.m. to destroy the evidence of that corporation's accessory to murder," John Shick wrote. "You stole over $3,000 from me and I need the money now. Send the money now. You are murderers and liars."
"Did that cause you any degree of concern over John's psychiatric state?" Mr. Homyak asked.
"Certainly," Mrs. Shick replied.
"What did you do about it?" the attorney continued.
"That moment, nothing," she said, adding later, "We still tried to call him, communicate. We couldn't get ahold of him."
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620. First Published December 4, 2013 1:21 PM