For Walt Stawicki, the past year has been one of grieving and what-ifs. Exactly one year ago, his 40-year-old son Ian Stawicki, killed himself in West Seattle after fatally shooting five people, including four at Café Racer.
Stawicki is pleased the Legislature passed a law making it easier to commit someone involuntarily for psychiatric care. He says he and his wife struggled to find the right care for their son, especially after they took a trip and noticed their son had deteriorated.
"We were gone a month, and I don't think he carried out the coffee grounds once," Stawicki said. "All the grooming things that you see in street people who are mumbling to themselves, these sorts of things were coming in.
“I don't think he was schizophrenic per se, but I think he was just not caring a lot anymore. I think he was massively depressed with his life."
A tough balancing act
Stawicki said balancing his son’s autonomy with his apparent need for help was a challenge he dealt with “not very comfortably, not very gracefully.” His son was very private and often pushed them away, so they didn't want to press him too hard to see a psychiatrist even though he and his wife were worried about him.
"We both got told, 'Don't ever try to call any of my friends. Don't ever talk about my business,"' Stawicki said. "(He was) very closed that way. There were things in his life that people didn’t want to know—the things that he saw as shortcomings of him.”
Stawicki said his son’s list of those shortcomings was a long one: “Spinning his own wheels, 40 years old, doesn’t have a family, doesn’t have a career, hasn’t done all these things that he had good ideas to do, can’t hold a job.”
Sometimes he finds himself regretting not having done more.
“One of the things I flagellate myself with is: ‘You should’ve kept coming back at it. You should’ve kept coming back at it. You should’ve kept coming back at it. Just because the door didn’t open, keep banging at the door. Keep banging at the door,’” he said.
'Lie your ass off'
Stawicki now gives one advice to parents of other adult children who suffer from severe mental illness: “Lie.”
“If you’ve got someone that’s a ticking time bomb, lie,” said Stawicki. “Lie and say they are or have been an imminent threat right now. You know, ‘I’m afraid to go back in the house after you leave, officer. He’s going to pull something out of the, you know, and kill me. Please don’t leave. Take him away.’
“Lie. Lie your ass off.”
Stawicki himself never feel in imminent danger with his son.
“We were more (worried) in the way he was going to get himself in trouble with his mouth and his actions, and get killed under a bridge someplace,” he said.
He knew his son wasn’t bad; he was suffering. So when he once read his son described as “a cold-blooded perp,” he was taken aback.
“People don’t understand the difference between an evil person and a mentally-ill person who does (an) evil deed,” he said,” he said. “To say that was a cold-blooded stance was to say that the demons were my son.”
“My son had a moral compass, but he didn’t have an awareness of where he was going with those deeds that morning,” said Stawicki. “He did when he killed himself. He cleaned up his mess.”
If you live in King County, and you're concerned about a friend or relative's mental state, check out this county website which lists signs that someone needs mental health services as well as where to call. Between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm, you can call 206-263-9200. Any time outside of those hours, call the Crisis Clinic at 206-461-3222.
Here is a list of mental health crisis lines resources for each county in the state.
The National Alliance on Mental Health offers resources for families with a mentally ill relative.
Here's a list of suicide prevention hotlines throughout the state.