Entries in Psychiatrist (4)


Victims Upset University Didn't Act on James Holmes' Psychiatrist's Concerns

RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images(AURORA, Colo.) -- Attorneys for James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado movie theater shooting, said Thursday in court that their client is mentally ill, but the biggest question for Holmes' victims is whether the massacre could have been prevented in the first place.

Jansen Young lost her boyfriend Jon Blunk in the July 20 shooting in Aurora, Colo. Blunk sacrificed his own life to shield her from the barrage of bullets. Young called him "a hero," and said he pushed her to the ground while covering her body with his own.

Now, three weeks after losing her boyfriend, Young is speaking out for the first time to Nightline about warning signs the University of Colorado may have missed. Reportedly, the psychiatrist who was treating Holmes expressed concerns about his behavior to others nearly six weeks before the shooting.

"I think if someone could have said six weeks beforehand, 'This man is a danger,' maybe me and a lot of others could still have our loved ones," Young said.

Holmes, 24, is a former Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado. Sources told ABC News that Dr. Lynne Fenton made contact with a university police officer in early June, during the time she grew concerned about his behavior. KMGH-TV previously reported Fenton reached out to other members of the school's threat assessment team to express concerns with Holmes. But it appears the university never acted on those concerns.

"I think that they messed up," said Jennifer Seeger, who came face-to-face with Holmes that night. "They could have stopped somebody. They could have had the possibility of saving lives."

The university has repeatedly declined to comment on who Fenton reached out to, citing a gag order issued by a court. However, university spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery confirmed to ABC News that the university has retained independent legal counsel to represent both Fenton and a university police officer.

Fenton would have had to have serious concerns to break confidentiality and reach out to the officer or others, sources said. Under Colorado law, a psychiatrist can legally breach a pledge of confidentiality with a patient if he or she becomes aware of a serious and imminent threat that their patient might cause harm to others. Psychiatrists can also breach confidentiality if a court has ordered them to do so.

Fenton was not just the suspect's psychiatrist. ABC News first discovered she was also one of the key authors of the university's policy on threat assessment.

On June 10, Holmes announced he intended to quit the prestigious Ph.D. program at the university. The university confirmed he was still enrolled when the shooting occurred a month and a half later. ABC affiliate KMGH-TV previously reported the university's threat assessment team never met to discuss Holmes and chose not to intervene while his paperwork for withdrawal was in motion.

"Under those circumstances, most well-trained threat assessment teams would have gone into action," said Barry Spodak, a threat assessment expert. "It's hard to imagine why they wouldn't go into action when they have received those kinds of reports."

Gerry Shargel, a renowned criminal defense attorney based in New York, said the University of Colorado could find itself in legal trouble for missing warning signs.

"Simply reporting it and wringing the hands and saying, 'Well there's nothing we can do about it because he is no longer a problem for the University of Colorado,' I think, will fall short when you look at the responsibility," he said.

If true, the University of Colorado will not be the first school to find itself in hot water for not doing enough to help troubled students.

Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in an Arizona parking lot, was a Pima Community College student. Loughner had several run-ins with faculty members and students. Campus officials even told him to get a mental health evaluation or not return.

Seung-Hui Cho, the student who murdered 32 people and wounded 25 others in a shooting at Virginia Tech, was also known to university authorities. Before Cho attacked the campus, multiple people reported his disturbing behavior to officials. The university has since settled several lawsuits with the victims' families.

Now, in Colorado, another set of young victims and families are left to pick up the pieces. Young said that all she thinks about is how much she misses her boyfriend, Blunk, and is having trouble understanding how the man charged with killing him was able to go so far.

"Even if it wasn't about [Holmes] being the university's problem, they should be involved because, you know, he was the entire city of Aurora's problem and now it's the world's problem," Young said.

She expressed hope that other colleges and universities around the nation will learn from her loss and take fast action when hearing about a troubled student in the future.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Exclusive: Psychiatrist for 'Dark Knight' Shooting Suspect James Holmes Contacted Police Before Massacre

RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images(AURORA, Colo.) -- The psychiatrist who treated suspected movie theater shooter James Holmes made contact with a University of Colorado police officer to express concerns about her patient's behavior several weeks before Holmes' alleged rampage, sources told ABC News.

The sources did not know what the officer approached by Dr. Lynne Fenton did with the information she passed along. They said, however, that the officer was recently interviewed with an attorney present by the Aurora Police Department as a part of the ongoing investigation of the shooting.

Fenton would have had to have serious concerns to break confidentiality with her patient to reach out to the police officer or others, the sources said. Under Colorado law, a psychiatrist can legally breach a pledge of confidentiality with a patient if he or she becomes aware of a serious and imminent threat that their patient might cause harm to others. Psychiatrists can also breach confidentiality if a court has ordered them to do so.

"For any physician to break doctor-patient confidentiality there would have to be an extremely good reason," said Dr. Carol Bernstein, a New York University psychiatrist and past president of the American Psychiatric Association.

Bernstein has no specific knowledge of the Holmes case and spoke in general terms.

"Confidentiality is a key part of the doctor-patient relationship," she said. "It is central to everything we do."

ABC news and affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver first reported Wednesday that Fenton had contacted other members of the university's threat-assessment team about her concerns. The university-wide, threat-assessment team reportedly never met to discuss Holmes after he announced his intent to withdraw from the University nearly six weeks before the July 20 shooting that left 12 dead and 58 injured.

University of Colorado spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery declined to comment on what, if anything, the university police officer might have done with information provided by Fenton, citing a court-issued gag order preventing her from confirming or denying any information related to Fenton or the investigation.

In a written statement to ABC News, however, the university said campus police officers are "frequently involved" in meetings of the university's Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment (BETA) team.

The statement went on to say that police involvement with threat assessment "could include security matters, badge access, background checks, wellness checks, criminal investigations and referrals and outreach to other law enforcement agencies."

An attorney for Fenton declined to comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Psychiatrist Called Threat Team About James Holmes

RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images(AURORA, Colo.) -- Aurora, Colo., shooting suspect James Holmes came to the attention of the threat assessment committee at the University of Colorado but no further action was taken because he left the school more than a month before the attack that killed 12 and injured 58, sources told ABC News.

ABC News has learned that Dr. Lynne Fenton, the psychiatrist who was treating Holmes, 24, at the school, was also a key member of the university's threat assessment team. The group of experts were responsible for protecting the school from potentially violent students.

KMGH-TV, ABC News' affiliate in Denver, reported exclusively that, according to sources, by early June, Fenton had informed other members of the team about her concerns regarding Holmes.

But on June 10 -- three days after Holmes bought an assault weapon and added it to his already growing arsenal -- he suddenly told the university that he was dropping out of the neurosciences doctoral program with no explanation.

KMGH-TV reported last week that he'd purchased the weapon hours after failing a key oral exam.

On Monday, Holmes was charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Twelve people were killed and 58 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Each death carried two separate murder charges, one for showing premeditation and one for showing extreme indifference to life. Both of the charges carry the death penalty as a possible sentence.

Sources have told KMGH-TV that the threat assessment team never had a formal meeting and never intervened, believing that it had no control over Holmes once he'd left the university. Documents uncovered by ABC News show that Fenton also wrote the school's policy on threat assessment.

Michael Carrigan, chairman of the CU board of regents, told KMGH that he did not know if Holmes had ever been discussed by the threat assessment team. "It's the first I'm hearing about this," he said in a phone interview.

A CU spokeswoman declined comment to KMGH on Fenton or any BETA team actions, citing a gag order.

Don Elliman, the university's chancellor, said last week that "to the best of our knowledge, at this point, we did everything we think we could have done."

But experts said Wednesday that Holmes' departure should have been a red alert.

"You know, I think that's the signal that you should intensify your efforts, not walk away," said Barry Spodak, a threat assessment expert. "Under those circumstances, most well-trained threat assessment teams would have gone into action."

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Colorado Shooting Suspect Was Seeing a Psychiatrist

Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office(AURORA, Colo.) -- Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes was being treated by a psychiatrist, according to a legal document filed by his attorneys.

The documents reveal that Holmes was under the psychiatric care of Dr. Lynne Fenton and the documents confirm that he mailed a package to his doctors that authorities have since seized.

Holmes, 24, is accused of going on a shooting spree in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20. Twelve people were killed and 58 wounded.

Investigators are analyzing a notebook believed to be written by Holmes that could be a roadmap to a massacre.

Holmes' attorneys filed the motion demanding that the court "immediately produce all discovery pertaining to the seizure of the package."

The attorneys claim that seizing the package was a breach of confidentiality and they accuse the government of leaking the existence of the package to the media.

"The government's disclosure of this confidential and privileged information has placed Mr. Holmes' constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial by an impartial jury in serious jeopardy," his attorneys wrote.

When investigators first found the Holmes package on Monday in the mailroom at the University of Colorado, where Holmes recently dropped out as a neuroscience student, they were so concerned it -- like Holmes' apartment -- would be rigged with explosives that they sent in a robot to handle it.

Inside the notebook they reportedly found plans for a massacre, including drawings of a stick-figure gunman mowing down his victims.

Holmes is expected to make his second court appearance on Monday where he will be formally charged for his alleged crimes.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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