Her Son Was Fatally Shot After She Couldn’t Get Him Help: A Preventible Tragedy Claims Another Life

(11-12-18) Guest blog.

Written by Margie Annis

My child was a 30-year-old man, who still called me Mama and who said to me several hours before his death: “I can do this on my own, I’m a grown man, love you Mama.”

How to begin this story has been a struggle. My son died at the hands of our broken criminal justice and mental health system.

Victims so many victims.

The rollercoaster of grief from losing a child – the nightmares that will not stop – the ‘what if’s ‘and ‘should of’s’  that will not stop – from the moment I gave birth to my son, all I wanted for him was to be good and happy in life and he was – until he was afflicted with a severe mental illness and had a fatal encounter with an off-duty correctional officer in Pasco County, Florida.

Ever since Ronnie’s death two years ago,  I have been searching answers.

Why did his life have to end so tragically? So many whys! The main one: Why was I unable to find help for my son? Why did my son end up being fatally shot?

Let’s start with the beginning. Some six years ago. My son was seeing things that were not there, believing the FBI, CIA, Coast Guard, and local police were watching him with helicopters and drones. Now I understand this break was first episode psychosis.

Isn’t it incredible that when someone has a heart attack, is in a car accident or breaks a leg – help is easily accessible. But when someone you love has a brain disease, there is no help.

I was forced to call the police because I was so desperate. I had no idea where to get help. After he was involuntarily committed, I had to get him to sign a release to be part of his care team.

HIPAA laws. I was told the law required him to say okay, otherwise I would be excluded. A barrier.

When I finally got his approval, I discovered my son was both mentally ill and had a drinking and drug problem.

I spent the next several years, trying to get him help. I contacted rehabilitation facilities that treat dual diagnosis individuals. I was told it would cost $30,000 month or more. My husband and I are not wealthy. We couldn’t afford it.

Next, I tried various intervention services. Same story. No money. No real help. No real treatment.

My son continued to suffer. Off and on. Every parent who has a severely mentally ill child has been there. He was sick but didn’t comprehend how sick he was. He had grandiose tendencies. He didn’t want help even if I found a place for him.

The last week of my son’s life was sheer hell!

My son was on probation because of a fight with his brother nine months earlier. It had gotten physical and the police had been called. Ronnie had gone berserk and had ended up being charged with domestic battery and resisting arrest with violence. He’d needed help. Instead, he was being punished.

A judge put him on probation but that didn’t help his illness. Ronnie and I were at the probation office asking for permission to have him transferred from Florida to Alabama where my husband and I reside. He had a psychotic episode while we were there.  Police were called.  They calmed him down. These police had been trained in how to deal with a psychotic individual such as my son.

I went directly from the probation office to a psychiatric hospital to learn if I could get him admitted. I was told it was a for-profit facility and the cost would be $1,500 a day. My son didn’t have insurance because he had lost his job because of his psychotic behavior.

Even if we had paid, my son told them that he had no intention of being admitted and added that we could not force him.

It is sad what you remember when tragedy hits.

Ronnie had long hair half way down his back. I talked him into letting me cut it. I took his picture to send it to others in the family. This is the last photo that I have of him. It was nine days before he was killed.

After we left that private psychiatric hospital, I began making other calls. Searching for help.

The first was to the Florida Health Department. I explained that Ronnie was delusional and had been arrested. He needed to be seen for a  mental health evaluation. I was told there was between a month to two month waiting list for an appointment.

Next, I called a psychiatrist. I explained that Ronnie was delusional, irrational, in crisis. I was told it would take at least a week before a psychiatrist could see him.

Growing more and more desperate, I told Ronnie that we needed to go to an emergency room in a hospital. He could voluntary admit himself.

He refused.

What was left for me to do?

I had tried a psychiatric hospital, the health department, a psychiatrist and urged him to go to an emergency room. Fearing my son would do something to cause harm to himself because of his irrational talk and actions, I called the police. I didn’t know where else to turn.

I asked if the police would get him involuntarily committed under Florida’s Baker Act. I told them how sick he was. The police officer told me that they would not attempt to Baker Act him unless an officer thought he fit the criteria.

Judgment by a complete stranger wearing a badge was superior over his own mother’s words.

An officer went to check on him, but didn’t find him. Nothing got done.

No one told me that I could have asked a judge to get him involuntarily committed. I was ignorant of how the law worked. Who knew? Later, I was told that the officer who went to find him should have told me. I would have done it.

What happened next is what I learned from demanding copies of official reports. They were painful to read because none of this needed to happen. If Ronnie had gotten help, he would still be alive.

My son was acting strangely outside a convenience store. The police arrived. He told them that his bible had flown out of his car window accidentally while he was driving so he was looking for it. They checked his license, saw that he didn’t have any warrants or tickets, and although he appeared agitated and hostile, they left him alone.

Even though he was psychotic and belligerent, they later said there was not enough to Baker Act him. I think they simply didn’t want to bother.

A short while later, he drove his car into the back of another vehicle and ran away. The other driver was not harmed. That accident happened near a Coca Cola distribution center and one of its delivery drivers had started his rig and was about to connect it to a trailer.

Ronnie jumped into the truck rig and took off. A sheriff’s deputy who was en route to his job at a nearby detention center saw Ronnie driving erratically from the plant and decided to chase after him.

Ronnie saw him. He stopped the Coca Cola truck rig in the center of the road and then drove backward into the deputy’s car following him, investigators said. That car was disabled. Ronnie drove away from the scene.

At this point, a second deputy heading to work saw what was happening and pursued Ronnie, cutting in front of the Coca Cola truck doing what he later called a “tactical maneuver” to stop Ronnie. The deputy stepped away from his truck and fired a pistol at Ronnie. Fortunately, he was not hit but the rig that he was driving struck that off duty deputy’s truck.

Ronnie got out of the rig and tried to escape in the deputy’s truck. This entire time, the deputy was pointing his pistol at Ronnie yelling at him. Ronnie couldn’t get that truck to work so he got out and the deputy confronted him on the road.

The deputy pointed his pistol at Ronnie and was quoted in an official report stating: “Hands on the ground! Hands on the ground! Hands on the ground! On your belly! You tried to run me over. Do you want to die?..I don’t want to kill you.”

Ronnie was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to die. I let you live (didn’t hit him with the rig.) Just let me go.”

My son had no weapon. Only his bare hands. He was psychotic and the only clothes that he had on was a pair of shorts. The deputy had no crisis intervention training.

One of the reports that I later obtained quoted the deputy saying: “I am confused what to do. I have never been dealt or been trained with this kind of stuff. You know he hasn’t really tried to hurt me at that point but I was still scared to death.”

The deputy and Ronnie reportedly got into a physical confrontation and the deputy shot my son twice at point blank range.

How I learned my son was dead.

The morning I learned of my son’s death is ingrained in my memory. Tears are flowing as I am writing this.

I went looking for him sick with worry.  He had been totally delusional the night before.  I drove to his apartment hoping he was there.   When I arrived I saw his car was not there. But I saw activity down the highway. Police cars were parked and I saw a red car that looked like my son’s.  I drove to it.

It was my son’s vehicle wrecked.  I pulled over and told the police that the car belonged to my son. “Where is he?”  They would not say, but asked me for my ID.  I proceeded to tell several officers who I was several times. I also was attempting to tell the officers my son was sick, demented, psychotic, and needed help.  No one really communicated with me.  I was told someone was on their way to speak to me.

I will never forget the scene.   It is embedded in my memory. Several policemen grouped together by their cruisers talking, smiling, laughing – as I was standing by my truck waiting as instructed.

I noticed a news helicopter flying overhead, news vans driving by. The police were waving them through.  I saw other police activity further down the road and asked what was going on. I was told that another accident had happened. No one told me it was related to my son.  But they knew!

No one would tell me what had happened.

Finally, I called my brother to tell him where I was.  He was watching the news and said they were saying there had been a shooting.  My heart was in my throat.  I was living on hope – not wanting to believe it could be my son.  I said to a policeman: “You are lying to me! If this is about my son, I can help. He listens to me. I decided to get into my truck but a policeman stood at my truck door so I could not get in.

An officer asked me if I recognized a pair of shoes by the side of the road. I had not seen them earlier. She proceeded to put numbers by them.  I called my husband. I had been calling him to up date him. I said, “Ronnie is dead!” No one had told me. I still was hoping it was not true – that he was alive. But…

A so-called “victim advocate” introduced herself.  Before she told me, I said: “My son is dead isn’t he?”

She nodded her head signaling yes.

I lost it.  I started to cry and walk in circles. I beat my fists on my truck’s hood, saying my son was sick – he needed help. “Where was the ‘protect and serve?’ Instead you killed him.”  I called my other son and told him that his brother was dead. That the police had shot him.

In the public’s eyes, it was an open and shut case.

The fact that he was psychotic and that I had not been successful in getting help for him was irrelevant.

At a news conference, the sheriff said that we may never know why my son acted like he did.

I know why.

He was sick.

I am in contact with other parents of children lost because of lethal force. The place and times are different, but the stories are mostly the same, and the tormented, agonizing pain of loss is always the same. I will carry my loss for all of my life.

You may see me smile or laugh but under the surface, my heart is breaking.

To help heal, I will do all that is in my power to prevent further shootings like the one that ended my son’s life.

It didn’t have to happen. I don’t want other parents to endure what I am living.

Margie Annis can be reached at: margieannis@me.com


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.