Pentagon shooter's spiral from early promise to madness

A shooting Thursday evening at the Pentagon entrance by a lone gunman leaves two police officers hurt. The suspected shooter, John Patrick Bedell, has died.
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010

John Patrick Bedell was an independent-minded and skeptical teenager -- bright and questioning, with strongly held opinions, like countless other young people, his brother remembered Saturday.

Bedell, who went by Patrick, had vigorously objected to the government's role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War since high school, telling relatives that the United States was trying to enrich itself and oil companies, said his brother, 33-year-old Jeffrey Bedell.

But, in about 2002, after the breakup of a long-term relationship with a girlfriend, his skepticism began to turn to deep-rooted suspicion. And soon it became paranoia, his brother said.

Patrick would point skyward, convinced that "they" were watching him. He believed songs he heard on the radio were meant as warnings. Deeply concerned, the Bedell family and close friends tried to seek medical help for him, but Patrick refused, convinced that he was privy to information that warranted his mind-set.

No one knows why Patrick Bedell, 36, traveled across the country from his parents' home here and opened fire at the entrance to the Pentagon, injuring police officers Jeffrey Amos and Marvin L. Carraway. But these accumulating moments of paranoia in the early 2000s appear to signal the time when he started on the course that would end with him shot and killed by three Pentagon police officers.

"There were symptoms of a mental disorder, approaching paranoid schizophrenia," said Jeffrey Bedell, a former California deputy attorney general who is a financial adviser. "I can only imagine the terror in his own mind. He believed there were people who meant to do him harm. My feeling is that his brain chemistry changed at some point."

The arc of a troubled life

In the Bedell family's first interview since the shooting, Jeffrey, the youngest of three siblings, opened up about Patrick's once promising life path and decline into mental disarray, as well as how the family has been coping with its link to his headline-dominating act of violence. A close family friend, Reb Monaco, a San Benito County supervisor, also helped trace the arc of Patrick Bedell's increasingly troubled life.

Jeffrey Bedell said he was having dinner at home with friends in Sacramento when he learned what his brother had done. His father called and told him to turn on the news.

"He said, 'Your brother has fired shots at the Pentagon,' " said Jeffrey Bedell, removing his tortoise-shell glasses and rubbing tears from his face. "I turned on the television, and I called George Washington's hospital and spoke to an FBI agent and doctor. The doctor told me he 'expired.' He said they did everything they could but that when he was brought to the hospital, he was not physiologically alive."

Learning that his brother -- once a roommate and a confidant -- had committed such violence convinces Jeffrey Bedell that he never grasped the full extent of Patrick's rage. His brother, Jeffrey said, never expressed a desire to use a firearm. But his parents had warned authorities that Patrick was missing and possibly armed.

Jeffrey said he first learned of his brother's interest in guns last month, when the family discovered that he had a credit card charge to a gun shop in Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento. He apparently had tried to purchase a gun, and the family learned that he failed a background check. "I was very surprised. There was no reason he needed one," Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey said he learned from his mother that Patrick made a purchase at a Washington area gun shop before Thursday night's shooting. "There was a credit card charge at some gun shop in Silver Spring, Maryland," Jeffrey said.

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