As Idaho’s bullet-pocked Latah County Courthouse reopened yesterday after a shooting rampage that left four people dead, authorities defended their response to the shooter’s warning that he wanted to kill lots of people, reports the Associated Press. Jason Hamilton had told a mental health professional he would take a large number of people with him if he were to commit suicide. Last weekend, he killed his wife, a deputy and a church sexton, before taking his own life.
His comment was not specific enough to have him involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in Idaho and many other states, police and mental health professionals say. “Any time you live in a society where people have freedoms, it’s very difficult to restrict their movements,” said Sheriff Wayne Rausch. “It’s very difficult to take specific actions against them unless they actually break the law.” Said a state Health and Welfare department spokesman: “We can’t make someone receive treatment. Unless a court commits a person to our care, treatment is voluntary.” Hamilton’s statement that he would take people with him “is an expression of danger to other people,” Jonathan Stanley of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va. He predicted that more tragedies like the one in Idaho will happen until improvements are made in involuntary commitment laws to make it easier to get people quickly into mental health treatment programs. “As tragic as this is for the families, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.