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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Absurd story has serious implications

Thursday, February 21, 2002

Were the story not so sad it would be downright hilarious.

Actually since no one died, I guess I can make fun of it regardless of the nature or consequences. So here goes.

It seems that 54-year-old Thomas Ray Mitchell has a bit of a problem. Well so does his girlfriend Barbara Jenkins.

Mitchell and Jenkins had a confrontation not too long ago and before the dust settled, Mitchell shot Jenkins. She survived.

So you might ask yourself, "What led to the shooting?" Here's where the story gets strange. It seems that Mitchell has a major problem with certain words. He gets unhinged when he hears the words New Jersey or Wisconsin or Snickers or Mars.

These four phrases for some reason cause Mitchell to go nuts. In the past he has not exhibited any violent behavior. A gunshot to Ms. Jenkins of course changed all of that.

Court officials said that Mitchell will curse or bang walls or fly off in a rage when he hears one of these simple phrases. He's now facing a 20-year jail term because Ms. Jenkins uttered the words New Jersey and Mitchell reacted with a gunshot. The trial is continuing.

In some ways I can relate to poor Mr. Mitchell. I hear the words Internal Revenue Service and I go a bit berserk.

"Affirmative action" brings a similar response. Depending on the time of year, the phrase Chicago Cubs drives me up a wall as well. But that is a different story for a different day.

I wonder why these particular words and phrases trigger the violence in Mitchell? Two states and two candy bars? Go figure.

Underlying this superficially funny episode, there's a real problem however. Mitchell, the courts reported, has been hospitalized in mental facilities numerous times in the past 15 years for mental disorders. His mental hospital stays have ranged from three weeks to three months. Quite obviously, this has not helped.

We have a substantial problem with mental illness in this nation. Grossly misunderstood and complex to overcome, there are millions of Thomas Ray Mitchells out here among us. More often than not, their problems are not necessarily violent.

Occasionally, as in this case, they turn that way. And yet today we have no more of a clue on how to overcome some of these disabilities than we did hundreds of years ago.

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