With Gun In The Mix, Mental Illness Turns To Tragedy

With Gun In The Mix, Mental Illness Turns To Tragedy

Colby Sue Weathers killed her father at the insistence of the voices in her head.

She shot him once in the back as he sat at the family’s dining room table. A paranoid schizophrenic, Weathers had used the money from her disability check to buy the handgun.

In September, the 40-year-old Missouri woman was declared not guilty of first-degree murder due to her mental impairment.

Her mother is grateful. Finally, her only daughter is receiving appropriate medication and counseling — at a state mental hospital. That’s some solace after losing the man she’d married 39 years before as a 17-year-old bride.

Both women miss Tex Delana horribly.

“I don’t blame her,” Janet Delana calmly explained in a long conversation this week. “She was sick and we couldn’t get her any help. That’s what hurts the most; there was nowhere to turn.”

Her family’s story briefly flashed in the media last spring when Delana filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Odessa Gun and Pawn, the gun store in Odessa, Missouri that sold her daughter the gun. The suit claims that the shop did so despite the fact that Delana had informed an employee that Weathers was mentally ill and a danger.

Two days before her husband’s death, Delana had called the gun shop and begged an employee not to sell a gun to her daughter, who had bought one there the month prior. She had called the ATF and the FBI; she had tried to get all of her daughter’s medical records together for the gun shop and frantically tried to reach doctors.

Delana realized her efforts were in vain when her daughter texted her: “Dad is dead.”

Whenever a mentally ill person kills with a gun — be it in these lesser known cases or in higher-profile mass shootings — the question naturally arises: Why can’t more be done to keep weapons out their hands? A tangle of interests works against stronger restrictions.

Mental-health professionals fear stigmatizing mentally ill people, most of whom are not violent. Doctors fear liability, both for labeling someone as violent and for failing to do so. Privacy rights are an issue. And elected officials at every level of government quiver at the threats of the NRA, which staunchly fights any perceived attack on the Second Amendment.

Delana wishes waiting periods could be instated for handgun purchases — and she is by no means opposed to responsible gun ownership. Her husband was a hunter.

Weathers had bought the second gun on a Wednesday and killed her father a short time later. A three-day waiting period would have pushed her acquisition of the gun to the weekend, when her mother would be home from work. Maybe the storms in her head, building for two weeks, would have subsided by then.

The loss Delana suffered was extreme. But she emphasizes that the details of her daughter’s spiral are familiar to families with an adult child suffering from severe mental illness.

Before she killed her father, Weathers had never been violent. But she had been deeply troubled for about seven years.

She’d spend hours standing the street, staring up at the sky. Or she’d sit at the big window in the front of the house, adamant that the same car kept passing by.

The longest Weathers had spent in a hospital was about a week, after a suicide attempt. She was prescribed medication that cost $600 a month. By the time her mother could find an affordable rate, Weathers would refuse the drugs. She often threw them up.

After Weathers fired a mental-health case manager, the family tried to keep her in touch with reality. They had to cajole her into bathing. But she rarely slept, and she believed her mother had sold her off as a sex slave at 12.

If Delana could go back and change anything about this episode, she says, she would have lied to health officials. She would have told them that her daughter was a physical threat to the family or herself, in hopes of triggering involuntary hospitalization.

But it was difficult to see where her daughter’s illness would lead. Before the problems began, Weathers had earned a paralegal degree, worked in accounting and was “one of the most generous and decent people,” her mother said.

Delana now visits her daughter every other weekend. She’s at peace, knowing her daughter is safe.

“It’s just amazing to me, the transformation,” Delana said. “It’s like my old daughter is back.”

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at msanchez@kcstar.com.

Photo: Mike Saechang via Flickr

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