Shooter Languished Between Delusions, Despair

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 19, 2006

In his lucid moments, Michael W. Kennedy longed to have his mental health back, saying he felt tortured by strange delusions and might kill himself to find peace, say teenagers who were close to him and an adult who has spoken with Kennedy's parents.

They said that when Kennedy, 18, fired more than 70 shots outside a Fairfax County police station last week, mortally wounding two officers, it marked the end of a half-year descent from normalcy to homicidal madness. His decline began suddenly in the fall, they said, with the unexplained onset of chronic severe headaches and bouts of sleeplessness.

One friend, Daniel Sforza, 18, who saw Kennedy late in the summer before going away to college and then hung out with him in the fall on a weekend visit home, said he was stunned by the "drastic" change in his friend's mental condition. "Mike was totally different," Sforza said, recalling the bizarre, disjointed delusions that Kennedy rambled on about in the fall.

"I mean, totally off-the-wall different," Sforza said.

Before then, his friends said, Kennedy, who was killed by police during the attack, seemed healthy and content, a sociable teenager with a quirky, carefree personality. He was a gun enthusiast, they said, but did not fit the profile of a would-be mass murderer. Far from being a brooding loner, they said, he had a wealth of friends at Fairfax's Westfield High School, from which he graduated last spring, and his behavior there never hinted at the trouble to come.

Late last year, as delusions haunted Kennedy more and more, his friends said, he agonized in moments of clarity.

"It seemed like he was two personalities," said a former girlfriend, now 17, who did not want her name published for privacy reasons. She stayed close with Kennedy to the end. "He could be this crazy-talking person. And then he would come back to his normal self and be like, 'I can't live like this! Something's wrong with me!' "

Headaches, Insomnia, Ramblings

When his mental problems took hold in the fall, Kennedy, an aspiring graphic artist, was a student at Northern Virginia Community College in Manassas.

"We can't put a finger on any one moment or cataclysmic event that started the downfall," said the adult who has talked regularly with Kennedy's parents since the shootings.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the attack is being investigated by police, the parents' acquaintance said that Kennedy's headaches and insomnia were aggravated by the delusions. During those spells, which grew more intense and prolonged over the winter, he rambled incoherently about God, Hitler, aliens and a coming apocalyptic battle in which he was destined to play a key role, his friends said.

Through all this talk of an epic struggle for dominion over the Earth, Kennedy's friends said, they never heard him threaten to attack the police or anyone specifically. However, the former girlfriend said, "you knew in the back of your mind that if he honestly thought he was talking to God, then he might do something dangerous."

His parents, Brian and Margaret Kennedy, were distraught over their son's worsening condition and took him to "a number of doctors" for a variety of tests, including at Prince William Hospital, the Woodburn Center for Community Mental Health in Annandale and Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health Center in Rockville, the adult acquaintance said. He said Kennedy was given medication, but he did not know exactly what kind.

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