Pentagon shooter's spiral from early promise to madness

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 7, 2010; A01

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.

Attempts to talk to the injured officers Saturday were unsuccessful. Chris Layman, a spokesman for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, said officials were not allowing interviews with them.

A respected family

In Hollister and surrounding San Benito County, a largely agricultural region, the Bedell family has long burnished a respected reputation. Oscar John Bedell, known as "O.J.", moved to Hollister about 60 years ago and worked for a bank. His son Oscar John Bedell Jr. moved here with his wife, Karen "Kaye" Bedell, after both served in the military in Germany in the 1960s. The couple had three children: Patrick, born in 1973, then Matthew in 1974 and Jeffrey in 1976.

Jeffrey Bedell and Monaco recounted that Patrick was considered "hyperintelligent" by the community when he was growing up. Even as a 3- or 4-year-old, Patrick wanted to go to the library to pick up books "way above his grade level," his brother said.

Monaco said: "There was competitiveness I observed in the three boys, more of an intellectual competitiveness. There was always intellectual banter, sometimes really, really humorous."

Later, Patrick warmed to nonfiction, including European history and literature about physicist Stephen Hawking. But he joined few if any clubs. "While he was an outgoing kid, he would also isolate himself. He would go into his room and read. It wasn't like he was a social outcast. But he wasn't a joiner," Monaco said.

"People in the news have speculated if he did this by himself or not. He was not a joiner," Jeffrey Bedell said.

Patrick was perpetually in and out of school, enrolling in undergraduate or graduate programs and sometimes auditing courses. Jeffrey could not recall whether he had worked anywhere. In 1999, the brothers lived together in Berkeley, when Jeffrey was a senior on his way to law school and Patrick was auditing a physics course. "It was fantastic. I had my bed, and he had a futon. We would go to the café, and I'd be studying, he'd be studying. . . . It was wonderful," Jeffrey said.

The brothers parted ways when Patrick moved to Austin to live with a woman he met at a bookstore at the University of California at Davis. Jeffrey did not want to name the woman, who he said was pursuing a graduate degree in literature. "I think she appreciated his intelligence. He was charming and very funny, and he was very kind and considerate," Jeffrey said. "It was fantastic to go out with them. I dearly love her."

But in the early 2000s, Patrick's curiosity and skepticism changed to an off-putting perspective laden with conspiracy theories. He smoked marijuana frequently. One time, Monaco said, Patrick asked him for his cellphone. Monaco handed it over, and Patrick removed the battery. "He said, 'That's how they can listen to us,' " Monaco said.

The Bedells pleaded with him to seek medical help, but he refused. "I would have conversations with him, trying to convince him to stop smoking marijuana, that it was making his thinking more disordered, but he was not receptive to that," Jeffrey said.

At one point, Patrick brought Monaco to a neighborhood and paced back and forth in front of a home. "He said, 'Those people spy on me at night.' " The family contacted local authorities, but there was nothing it could do unless Patrick consented.

Late last year, Patrick attended a housewarming party at Jeffrey's new home in Sacramento. "He was actually lucid and fun to be around. . . . He was interested in developing a different currency," Jeffrey recalled.

But the end began in January, when Patrick went missing, was pulled over for speeding in Texas and was caught with marijuana. Jeffrey talked to the state trooper and found out his brother was headed to the East Coast, where it was supposedly "warmer." Jeffrey said: "I tried calling him. He never picked up. I left him voice mails."

Two days after Patrick's death, Jeffrey said: "I had my first dream about him last night. He was there, and I could hear him talking. That's how I knew it was a dream."

Staff writers Theresa Vargas and Matt Zapatosky and special correspondent Anrica Deb contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company