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A sensitive story on the Pentagon shooter

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The March 7 front-page article "The bright youth, dark end of the Pentagon shooter" was difficult for me to read. From the first moment I heard of John Patrick Bedell's cross-country trek to open fire on Pentagon police officers, I had only one thought: mental illness. As theories of government disenfranchisement and domestic terrorism were floated, I remained confident that if the story were adequately investigated and reported, the delusional act of a troubled mind would be the only explanation. Of course, for those of us affected by the mental illness of a loved one, there is never really an explanation.

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In February 2001, my son, a bright, energetic sophomore at James Madison University, presented the first symptoms of a thought disorder, recognized immediately by his mother, an experienced clinical psychologist. As with Mr. Bedell, he heard voices and occasionally had to unplug all of the electronics in his room because these were the voices' preferred media. From that day in February, he was in treatment and receiving the best of care, until almost three years later when he took his life.

Your sensitive reporting of Mr. Bedell's tortuous nightmare reminds us that life is more complex than politics or ideology. Amid loving relationships of family and friends, fears can consume and dominate without any reasonable explanation. For those of us affected by the mental illness of a family member, we know this can happen to anyone.

My heart goes out to the Bedell family for the loss of their son and the frightening consequences of the demons he could not exorcise. Perhaps they can take some comfort in believing that he has found the peace that he could not find in this world.

Jack Porter, McLean


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