Patient kills McLean psychiatrist before fatally shooting herself

July 23, 2011

The two psychiatrists were having lunch Thursday when Mark Lawrence, who’d been practicing for 40 years in McLean, confided that he was particularly concerned about one of his patients.

The woman was getting paranoid, Lawrence told Melvin Stern, one of his closest friends and colleagues. And she had begun blaming all her problems on Lawrence, her 71-year-old psychiatrist.

“I told him this patient needed a consultation from someone outside if she was getting paranoid about Mark,” said Stern, a psychiatrist who lives in Chevy Chase.

Lawrence agreed, but by the next day he was dead. Fairfax County police said he was fatally shot in his home by the patient, Barbara A. Newman, 62, of Vienna, who then turned the gun on herself.

The murder-suicide occurred about 4:15 p.m. Friday in a wealthy neighborhood less than a mile from the private Madeira School, where Lawrence and his wife, Karen, had lived “forever,” said one neighbor, who declined to give her name. She said she and other neighbors were shaken by the violence and were still processing it.


Police say psychiatrist Mark Lawrence, 71, was shot and killed in his home by a patient, Barbara A. Newman, 62. (Courtesy of Fairfax County Police)

The news also came as shock to Stern, who had spent 20 minutes discussing the patient during his lunch with Lawrence at Redwood in Bethesda. The two often compared notes about patients, without revealing their identities.

It was the first time Lawrence mentioned this particular patient to Stern, but he did not express any fear that she was a danger to herself or to him.

“I went home thinking I had made a good suggestion and that hopefully the patient would agree to seek outside consultation,” said Stern, who had known Lawrence since they trained together at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in the 1960s.

He learned of his friend’s death from Karen Lawrence, who had been inside their home on Tebbs Lane at the time of the attack.

Newman, a former scientist at the National Institutes of Health immunology lab, had lived alone in a two-story house in the 9600 block of Farmside Place for the past decade, a neighbor said. She had not been working in recent years but did not seem troubled, the neighbor said.

“When I told my kids, they just looked at me. They said, ‘Barb? Barb Newman?’ ” said Betsy Erickson, a next-door neighbor and president of the neighborhood homeowners association.

Newman had grappled with physical ailments in recent years, Erickson said, though she didn’t share much information about her medical condition.

Her home appeared well-kept. Several gardening magazines were strewn on a coffee table in the living room. A tennis racket leaned against the dining room wall.

Relatives did not return calls for comment Saturday.

Lawrence, whose daughter and grandchild live in Michigan, had retired from his clinical practice but still saw a few patients at his home office, said Cynthia Margolies, a colleague of eight years at the Center for Healing and Imagery where Lawrence taught.

“He had a huge heart. He was one of the kindest people ever,” Margolies said. “He was just uniquely and highly skilled in helping people work in therapy.”

Lawrence wasn’t the first area psychiatrist to be killed by a patient. In 2007, Wayne S. Fenton, one of the world’s leading experts in treating schizophrenia, was beaten to death by a teenage patient in his office in Rockville.

Other mental health professionals have also experienced violence on the job. Several years ago, in a survey of 1,129 therapeutic workers nationwide, 58 percent said they had been confronted with violent behavior, although only 24 percent of those said they had been attacked.

Lawrence received his bachelor’s degree from Amherst College in 1961 and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1965. He trained at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center and has served on the psychiatric faculty of Georgetown University Medical School and St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Lawrence had been teaching workshops for therapists at the Center for Healing and Imagery, which he co-founded in 1984. The center aims to combine experiential “right-brain” oriented approaches with traditional “talk therapy,” according to the organization’s Web site.

Colleagues praised Lawrence’s compassion in treating patients and in mentoring the hundreds of therapists who have attended his workshops.

“He had a lot of faith in people’s own capacity to heal,” Margolies said. His work focused on helping people who have suffered from early traumatic experiences develop their own inner resources to overcome their problems, she said.

Outside of work, Lawrence skied and played tennis, Stern said. He loved talking politics and sports. and followed the Redskins, the Nationals and the Capitals.

Lawrence and Stern had belonged to the same book club since 1974 and had gotten together at least every other week to discuss books ranging from David Kirkpatrick’s “The Facebook Effect” to Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”

“He was human, loving, open. He was very bright, creative, both in a right-brain and left-brain sense,” Stern said. “He was like a brother.”

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