How did Va. psychiatrist and patient become entwined in death?

Correction: This article initially misstated the date Mark Lawrence was fatally shot by a patient. The shooting occurred July 22.

August 7, 2011

Mark Lawrence stepped out of his home office and went downstairs to tell his next patient he needed a few minutes to finish an earlier appointment. As he headed back up the stairs, Barbara Newman leveled a gun at her longtime psychiatrist and shot at him repeatedly. He fell, dead.

Newman stepped out on the porch, turned the gun on herself and fired again.

It was a mysterious end to the lives of two highly educated, accomplished scientists, both of whom had spent their lives helping others — she by curing diseases of the body, he by curing diseases of the mind.

Interviews with family members, friends and colleagues of Newman, 62, and Lawrence, 71, reveal them as an unlikely pair to be entwined in such a tragedy. Both were remembered separately as caring, dedicated professionals, Newman an immunologist and Lawrence a psychiatrist. Both were athletic and believed in a holistic approach to well-being.

More important, both told people that they thought Newman had been headed in the right direction as she battled recent health problems and long-standing psychological issues.


Mark Lawrence, 71, confided in at least two colleagues about the apparent paranoia of one of his patients, Barbara Newman, 62. (Courtesy of Fairfax County Police/Shirley Starnes)

But on July 22, Newman’s new-age principles gave way to unexpected violence at Lawrence’s McLean home as she took her life and that of the one person who best understood the troubles that plagued her.

Lawrence had discussed Newman’s apparent paranoia with at least two colleagues — telling one that she had begun blaming him for all her problems. Still, no one thought it would end the way it did.

“Periodically, he’s had patients who have been problematic with their boundaries,” said Lawrence’s daughter, Katherine. “He’s been worried on some occasions, but he never feared for his life. . . . My dad actually thought she was on the upswing. He hadn’t anticipated she was getting worse,” said Lawrence, who noted that her father kept details of Newman’s case confidential.

Researchers who have studied attacks against mental health professionals said patients who lash out tend to have a history of recent, repetitive criminal behavior or substance abuse. Newman had no criminal record, and friends were unaware of any substance abuse problems. For patients like her, researchers said, such attacks often are triggered by a stressful event, such as a loss of a loved one or a foreclosure.

If Newman had such a stressor, those closest to her did not know.

“I can’t imagine that she would have ever handled any of her problems in this way,” said Lisa Boyd, a friend who worked with Newman at the National Institutes of Health. “She valued life.”

Barbara Ann Newman grew up on Long Island and graduated from a top public high school. She went on to Smith College, earning a degree in psychology, and received a PhD in immunology from Columbia University.

During her college years, friends said, Newman’s father died within a week of learning he had cancer. His death affected her deeply, they said.

“He was a very strong figure in her life,” Boyd said. “I think there were things related to that that she struggled with.”

Newman’s family members declined to comment for this article.

Through her struggles, Newman propelled herself into the high-pressure world of immunogenetics. In 1986, she started as a postdoctorate fellow at the NIH, studying the genetics of the immune system.

“She was an excellent scientist and a very competent and versatile person,” said Rose Mage, who worked with Newman for years at the NIH.

Mage, like others close to Newman, knew she had been seeing the same therapist for a long time, but Newman didn’t share much. “All I knew was that she saw him frequently, and obviously they respected each other.”

In the early ’90s, Newman told colleagues that she was seeking a path that would allow her to help others more directly. Eventually, friends said, she began to study social work.

Newman immersed herself in the world of new-age healing, yoga and what she termed “mindful health,” a merging of therapy and physical exercise. Friends said she started a business, and records indicate that about 1999 to 2001, she sublet space in a McLean office suite where Lawrence worked. It was not clear when she became his patient.

In April 2001, Newman’s brother, Stephen, 59, died of a stroke. She had a difficult time coping, friends said, although she had not been very close to her family.

Never married and with no children, Newman sought community in a neighborhood in Vienna where people rely on each other for support and sometimes share meals. She invited friends to pick peaches in the neighboring farm and stayed active, playing tennis, swimming and traveling to St. John in the Caribbean for an annual well-being conference.

Newman returned to the NIH in September 2001, again in the immunology lab. But she resigned in early 2007, just after her mother died.

Again, she delved deeply into yoga and alternative therapies. In mid-2007, Newman began visiting a new Great Falls yoga studio. There, she met Tom Acklin, a former neurologist who was a partner and manager there.

“I was going from science to spirit, and I felt she was doing the same,” Acklin said. “She was a journeyer in life.”

But the ensuing years, friends and colleagues said, were difficult for Newman. Health problems prevented her from joining in many of her usual activities, leaving her largely homebound. She was seeing many doctors, including Lawrence.

‘Immediately at ease’

Mark Allen Lawrence was raised in Gary, Ind., and studied history at Amherst College. He went on to Harvard Medical School and was a student there when he met his wife, Karen.

The couple married and moved to the Washington area in 1969 when he was hired at the National Institute of Mental Health. They eventually settled with their young daughter, Katherine, on Tebbs Lane in McLean, where Lawrence started his private practice.

Katherine Lawrence remembers that her father, who worked in an office connected to the family’s home by a breezeway, would take time between patients to help her with her homework. He had a knack for numbers, and, in the days before barcode scanners, would challenge himself to tally grocery prices before the cashier could finish.

When Katherine was about 8, Lawrence attended a workshop in New York on hypnosis, which he began to incorporate into his therapy. He once hypnotized Katherine to help her find a misplaced passport, she said.

As Lawrence grew his private practice, he also served on the psychiatric faculty of Georgetown University Medical School and St. Elizabeths Hospital.

In 1984, he co-founded the Center for Healing and Imagery and taught workshops on using imagery in therapy. Lawrence also did character analyses of world leaders for the CIA, his daughter said. The CIA said he did work for the agency in the 1970s and ’80s.

Since Lawrence’s death, colleagues and former patients have shared stories about his skill and warmth with his family.

“I think the one bright spot in all of this horribleness is, I don’t think I would have known how much he was appreciated, how much of an impact he’s had in this community,” said Katherine Lawrence, a researcher at the University of Michigan.

A psychiatric clinical nurse specialist who attended his seminars remembered feeling frazzled after taking wrong turns on her way to their first meeting.

“I was nervous. I was embarrassed. The clock was ticking. But when I called to say I was lost, he reassured me all the way to his office and put me immediately at ease when I walked in the door,” Peggy Brennan said. “And that’s how you always felt with him.”

In 2005, Lawrence received a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He beat the cancer that year and, within months, returned to playing tennis. He dabbled in Pilates and started water-skiing once a week.

About four years ago, Katherine Lawrence and her father began co-writing a book about therapy. She said she plans to publish it in his name with help from his colleagues.

‘She felt better’

One afternoon this summer, Newman met up with a friend at the Old Brogue Irish pub in Great Falls. She had just returned from a trip to Costa Rica.

“She said she felt better than she had felt in years, going back to her 20s and 30s,” said the friend, Lisa Boyd. “It was one of the most upbeat, wonderful conversations I had with her in a long time. There were things she struggled with, obviously, but she was always working through them, always talking through things.”

What happened in the next weeks is unclear. Fairfax County police declined to discuss a possible motive. Lawrence’s family said he did not own a weapon, indicating that Newman brought it to her appointment.

On July 21, Lawrence told a longtime friend and colleague, Melvin Stern, over lunch about a patient who was growing increasingly paranoid.

Lawrence left that lunch thinking he could help her get better.

“He really believed in everybody’s capacity to heal,” said Susan Drobis, a clinical social worker who knew Lawrence.

Shortly after 4 p.m. the next day, Lawrence and Newman were dead.

Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

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