A 31-year-old paranoid schizophrenic man who was shot by police Sunday while attempting to escape from a hospital for the criminally insane in Jessup may have been seeking a confrontation as part of a suicide wish, a hospital official said.

"You have to wonder if he was interested in death by police," said Richard Fragala, clinical director at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital.

Brian Bechtold, who had been incarcerated at the hospital since killing his parents in Montgomery County in 1992, was in serious but stable condition last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. The two Howard County police officers who shot him were placed on routine administrative leave yesterday pending an investigation.

On Sunday, Bechtold used a 14-inch metal support strut from an ironing board to coerce a nurse to let him into a low-security wing of the hospital, authorities said. He then ran into the hospital lobby, where some children and visitors were gathered. He was screaming, "I'm going to cut you!" and waving the strut, according to hospital officials. Rather than risk injury to the children, hospital security allowed Bechtold to run out the front door into the parking lot.

There he threatened a motorist sitting in his car, then ran to a small industrial park adjacent to the hospital. Howard County police caught up to him less than a mile away, in the parking lot of Apollo Moving and Storage Co. in the 8300 block of Sherwick Court. He found another parked motorist and threatened to kill him, according to Howard police. He lunged toward the motorist, according to court documents filed yesterday.

The officers then fired one shot each.

Bechtold was charged yesterday with one count of first-degree assault, three counts of second-degree assault and false imprisonment. Though a Montgomery County judge ruled him not criminally responsible for the deaths of his parents in 1992, Howard County police officials said they will order a battery of psychological tests to determine whether Bechtold's mental state has improved to the point that he was legally competent when he attempted escape Sunday.

"We don't know what kind of medication he was on. It's possible he could be judged sane," said Sgt. John Superson, a police spokesman.

Officials at Perkins described Bechtold as "taciturn" and "introverted" but said the devoted weightlifter has not been violent in his seven years at the hospital. Yesterday, staff psychologists scoured prior psychiatric reports in search of missed warning signs.

"This man obviously has a desperation going on that he kept from us," said Fragala said.

Bechtold may have become stressed over financial matters related to money he inherited from his parents' estate that he shares with his four sisters, a Perkins official said. That stress may have led him to attempt his violent breakout.

When Bechtold, a Springbrook High School graduate, was 23, he fatally shot his parents, George W. Bechtold, 54, and Dorothy Bechtold, 63, in their chests, then fled to Texas before turning himself in to police in Port St. Joe, Fla. He told officers there that the devil ordered him to kill and that he turned himself in because of guilt.