Mental Health Issues Surface in Mass Casualty Attacks - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe News Weather, Video -

Mental Health Issues Surface in Mass Casualty Attacks

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Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong recently returned from a national conference in Atlanta where experts from around the country discussed how to prevent people from committing mass casualty attacks. Furlong was asked to talk about the shooter who killed opened fire at the Carson City IHOP in 2011.

Eduardo Sencion's family helped him deal with mental illness for years. "He exploded on one morning when no one was around to give him that assistance-- to maybe reel him back in," said Furlong. "He picks up his weapons and starts shooting people," Furlong continued. 

As law enforcement officials from around the country meet to talk about mass casualty events, they say one thing keeps emerging, that each of the perpetrators had some type of mental health issue. Furlong says it's a problem that needs to be addressed. "It's not just the guns, it's the person and I think we need to pay really good attention, close attention. You can cut the tree, but the roots are still there," said Furlong. 

Carson City is testing a pilot program that addresses mental health issues before someone is arrested, and with inmates in the jail. The program is called "FASTT" or the Forensic Assessment Services Triage Team. It's been in existence for about six months. 

Dr. Joseph McEllistrem is a forensic psychologist in Carson City who is part of the proactive team. He credits Richard Whitley, the Administrator for the Nevada Division of Mental Health with starting the program.

McEllistrem said most patients with mental illness who turn violent are not getting the treatment they need. "You rarely hear about a major incident in the community where someone was actively engaged in a treatment program. It's somebody that's been off their medicine, out of the treatment, away from their providers," said McEllistrem.

McEllistrem is part of a team that helps mental health experts work with law enforcement in Carson City. "We started to work on a program that would allow street enforcement teams, like the Carson City Sheriff's Office-- to contact mental health providers when there was a crisis, and if we could, we would respond on-scene with that to avoid an arrest."

Sheriff Furlong says making sure people have access to mental health care, medicine and treatment could help prevent future attacks. "If we don't address the root causes of these issues, then they will continue to happen, be they by guns, bombs, or as in Arizona-- sharp instruments. They can occur by any means."

The FASTT program is currently helping adults in Carson City, but hopes to be available to juveniles in the future.

 Written by Jennifer Burton

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