Two killings in the Tri-Cities this year were allegedly committed by people suffering from mental illness.
While it's arguable that anyone who kills a fellow human being has something wrong with his or her brain, the two young men charged with these murders have had a history of mental health illness.
Adam Ryan Williams is charged with the brutal slaying of his 87-year-old grandmother, Viola, a woman known for her baking skills and dedication to church and family.
Williams spent five years at Eastern State Hospital after an assault charge and had was released last spring. A young man of 28 with a long troubled history of drug abuse and mental health problems, Williams' mother had sought a protection order against her son a decade earlier.
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Williams reportedly said God told him to kill his grandmother.
Earlier this month in Pasco, Joseph William Hart allegedly killed his roommate, leaving him dead on the front lawn of their mobile home -- a facility owned by Lourdes Health Network and used as housing for people with mental illnesses.
Although less is known about Hart's mental state, and privacy laws prevent access to health records, circumstances point to his connection to the mental health system. He also had two prior criminal convictions, and if found guilty of this slaying, it could be his third strike.
Treating and caring for people with mental illness is a huge challenge, and one that's largely left up to individuals and nonprofit organizations in our community.
There is no consolidated effort, though talks have been going on for years for at least a place to deal with those in an urgent mental health crisis.
Wilson House, a facility operated by Lourdes in Pasco, served as a club house and safe haven for people recovering from mental illness.
Unfortunately, that facility closed earlier this year, the victim of budget cuts and subsequent restructuring. The loss of Wilson House was called "heartbreaking" at the time by mental health advocates. The victim in the Pasco murder was said to have been a regular visitor at Wilson House.
Combine mental health issues with violent tendencies and a lack of resources and you have a recipe for disaster.
We're not saying that easy answers exist. Agencies and health care organizations like Lourdes that assist the mentally ill have faced cuts in state and federal funds during these challenging economic times. We are not assigning blame to well-meaning organizations that can no longer shoulder the burden of caring for the mentally ill.
Could more have been done to prevent the loss of these two lives? It's a difficult question. Those who suffer from mental illness already face suspicions and misperceptions that only serves to increase the burden.
But is there a way to curb the violent acts of a few mental health patients without unfairly stigmatizing the majority of those struggling with mental illness.
We've been willing to commit sex offenders to indefinite state custody even after they have served their time -- then alert the community when they're released. Is that the way to deal with mentally ill individuals who are prone to violence as well?
That seems cruel, even inhumane. But so does murder.
We see people in our community every day who could benefit from better access to mental health services.
We can't give up simply because there's no easy fix. Our community must find a way to protect its citizens and care for those struggling with mental illness.