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A Preventable Tragedy Near Pittsburgh

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(Feb. 28, 2013) On the morning of Feb. 19 in the Pittsburgh suburb of Richland Township, 26-year-old Levi Staver fatally stabbed his grandmother, Connie Johnston, while she ate breakfast in her home. When police arrived at the scene, Levi reportedly told them that his grandmother was a witch and that he was commanded to kill her by an Arch Angel.

pittsburgh_tragedyLast fall, Levi was diagnosed with schizophrenia after being hospitalized for injuries suffered in an accident. For years before that up until last week’s tragedy, Levi’s mother and grandparents waged a losing battle to secure for him the mental illness treatment he so desperately needed. Like so many other families, their struggle was compounded – first, by Levi’s inability to recognize his own illness and refusal to submit himself to voluntary care, and second, by a misguided civil commitment law that withholds the lifeline of involuntary treatment until death or severe injury appears imminent.  In Pennsylvania, the law requires proof of “a reasonable probability that death, serious bodily injury or serious physical debilitation would ensue within 30 days unless adequate treatment were afforded.”

On Monday, Levi’s heartbroken mother and grandfather spoke to Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV, and the report is available online. The Johnstons explain how the public mental health system failed Levi, and announce their intent to work for reform of the Pennsylvania commitment law. Will Pennsylvania lawmakers take heed before another senseless preventable tragedy occurs? Let’s hope so.

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