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Murder, Incorporated?

But, House says, "I guess I'm talking to you because here is someone I knew as a kid and I don't want this vicious picture painted of him."

Mickel grew up in Springfield, Ohio, the middle of three sons raised by Karen and Stan (she teaches math; he teaches Chinese). By all accounts, loved and indulged. Not a loner, not a joiner, either.

Andrew Mickel, accused of killing California police officer David Mobilio, says he incorporated as "Proud and Insolent Youth." (Jim Cole -- AP)

A strong, lanky kid, Mickel never got into fights. No dope. No beer. He dated girls, but no one recalls a major romance. Andy Mickel was in Drama Club; he acted in school plays, performing the role of Tiresias, the blind seer, in "Oedipus Rex." Intelligent, he was bored in high school. It annoyed him, he didn't like sitting in class all day. He made crummy grades.

"I don't know if anybody has bragged to you about him," House says, "but Andy was one of the funniest, brightest people you'd ever meet in your life."

Ben Poston, a friend who continues to correspond with Mickel in jail, recalls that the two formed a kind of Dead Poets Society while they were in high school; they called themselves the "Stowaway Journeymen," and Mickel's secret name was "Flying Courage." The two would go to a park and read aloud Robert Frost and Walt Whitman, and Mickel would read his own poetry.

"He was an inspiration for me in high school," says Poston, who is now a reporter at an Ohio newspaper.

While Mickel's friends went to college, Poston says he believes Mickel went into the Army to challenge himself, mentally and physically. "Just another way that Andy thought out of the box," says House.

When Mickel finished his three years of service at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, rising to the rank of specialist, he came home and dumped his fatigues and gear on a porch and told his buddies they could have whatever they wanted. He got in his maroon Mustang and headed west. He was moving on.

To Evergreen State College, a liberal bastion in Olympia, Wash., where students do not get letter grades and are free to pursue independent study. In his freshman year, he took a class called "Barking at the Moon" with professor Sara Rideout Huntington, where they studied the use of metaphor and read a Cormac McCarthy novel, watched Susan Sontag films and delved into the meaning of kitsch. Afterward, Mickel spent a year on "an individual contract," as Evergreen State calls it, working on his writing under the guidance of Huntington.

At first, Huntington recalls, his work was filled with abstractions, musings about God and free will and society. Then he started writing stories of "adventures," riding on freight trains or breaking into abandoned houses.

Mickel studied anarchist texts and was interested in social justice issues, but Huntington says a lot of the students do that. In that way, he fit right in at Evergreen State.

"I just didn't see this coming," Huntington says. "I wish I can say he was insane, maybe that would explain this, but he didn't seem to be. He was hardworking, polite, conscientious, respectful. Obviously, someone who does this is out of their mind. But I didn't see it."

Mickel went to the West Bank and Colombia with human rights groups. He became interested in the Palestinian cause and the U.S. role in Latin America. He joined rallies against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.

His close friends knew that Mickel suffered from depression, underwent counseling and took antidepressants.

His parents have been wary of talking with the press because their son is refusing to speak with them, and they are afraid of alienating him further at a time when he might need them most. With both Stan and Karen Mickel on the telephone, Karen read a statement: "We are in anguish that this tragedy occurred. Andy suffered from and was treated for depression during his childhood and through his teenage years. But we never imagined he would turn to violence. There were no signs of it happening."

His parents believe that their son's depression must have taken a turn for the worse -- into paranoia or delusion or schizophrenia.

Poston says in his letters with Mickel, his friend spoke of his depression as sometimes "debilitating" and confessed that he struggled to stay focused, to get up in the morning.

A family friend, Mary Patton, says, "I think he is a very sick young man and we as a nation are still failing our people with mental illness."

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