Sunday, August 19, 2018
Education

FSU shooter's friends tried to get help for him months before the shooting

When she met him in the parking lot, the sight of him jarred her. Gone was the dapper, carefully dressed man who had taken her on dates for most of the past year.

He was gaunt, haggard, disheveled and wild-eyed. He wore a borrowed T-shirt and a pair of too-small running shorts. He was barefoot. He had thrown away his shoes, he told her, because he was sure they were bugged by the cops who were following him.

Standing there in Las Cruces, N.M., Danielle Nixon listened as the man who would open fire in a Florida State University library begged her for the wrong kind of help. Myron May said he needed her to rent him a car, so he could slip out of town unnoticed.

By this point, on Oct. 8 — six weeks before May would walk into the Strozier Library on the FSU campus, level a handgun and start shooting, wounding three — May's friends had tried at least three times to get him the care he desperately needed. Every time, they were told, he didn't qualify for that care.

In interviews with the Tampa Bay Times on Friday, May's friends described their frustrations over the past three months with the area's mental health care system, one that couldn't save May despite desperate pleas from loved ones who watched him dissolve into paranoia before their eyes.

"You have to commit a crime to get the help you need. Why isn't it the reverse?" said Kimberly Snagg, a Houston lawyer who described May as one of her best friends. "This could have been avoided. The entire thing."

•••

Six months into his job as a prosecutor in the Dona Ana County District Attorney's Office in New Mexico, May couldn't concentrate.

The 31-year-old had become so distractible, he told his friends, that he had decided to see a psychologist. He emerged from the appointment with prescriptions for an antidepressant and an attention deficit drug, which he took faithfully until, about three weeks later, he suffered a panic attack at work.

When another attack followed a week later, he returned to his psychologist and had his medication adjusted, said Nixon, a doctor. May was on a combination of Wellbutrin and Vyvanse — drugs that, in rare cases, can cause paranoia.

By late summer, May had begun acting strangely, his friends said. He was worried his neighbors were watching him. He heard them talking about him through the walls of his apartment.

It was alarming to his friends, but it was nothing, they said, compared to what was still to come.

•••

May told his friends that the officers at the Las Cruces Police Department laughed at him when he showed up on the morning of Sept. 7 to make a bizarre report: Someone was watching him through a camera hidden in his apartment. And he was hearing voices coming in through the walls as he bathed.

May left the Police Department that day and went to a shooting range, where friends had gathered for a bachelor party.

As they squeezed off rounds at the targets, May seemed agitated, they recalled. He told them he wasn't sleeping because of his neighbors' constant spying. Their voices were keeping him up at night, he said. What he really wanted was to get a gun and take revenge on them.

He was ready to buy one that day, he said. His friends talked him out of it.

•••

Unsettled now, May's friends contacted his psychologist's office. They said they told her that May was paranoid, that he was hearing voices, and that he had talked about buying a gun and getting even with his neighbors.

The psychologist made an appointment with May, they said, met with him for about an hour and then declared him to be fine. Nixon and the others were frustrated.

Not long after that day, May called a friend, a law enforcement officer at a local agency, sounding paralyzed with fear. May was sure that other shoppers were secretly observing him. He was afraid of what they might do to him. He asked his friend to escort him home.

A day or two later, he voluntarily checked himself into Mesilla Valley Hospital, a mental health center. Finally, his friends thought, he was in a position to get some serious medical care.

•••

He got out four days later. Soon after, on Oct. 5, he was acting more erratic than ever before. Telling no one beforehand, he drove his black Chevy SUV nine hours to Denver. Then he turned around and drove back.

He made frantic phone calls to his friends from the road. The police were on to him, he said. His hotel room in Denver was bugged, so he had to flee. There were black cars following close behind. He would be a millionaire when he brought to justice the crooked cops who were persecuting him. Stopping for food or sleep was not an option, he said. He drove straight through the night.

•••

Responsible for caring for May's Great Dane, Lil' Bit, during one of May's sudden absences, his friends let themselves into his apartment and found a new pill bottle among his prescriptions, they said.

It was Seroquel, a powerful antipsychotic. The prescriber worked at Mesilla Valley Hospital. Together the friends got on the phone with her and laid out the whole story, describing the voices, the cameras, May's fear of persecution, his desire for a gun, his wish to have revenge.

"She listened and then she ended it by saying, you know, 'I can't really do anything,' " Nixon said. " 'He needs to come back on his own.' "

•••

On Oct. 7, two days after his trip to Colorado, May was driving the streets of Dona Ana County. He pulled into a sheriff's substation and dialed Snagg's number. He told her he couldn't take it; he was turning himself in. He went to the desk to surrender, but the woman there told him he wasn't wanted on any charges. Snagg could hear snippets of the conversation through her cellphone. She said she asked May to hand the woman the phone. Snagg said she told the woman that May was a lawyer in the midst of a severe mental breakdown. "I implored her, please do not let him leave," Snagg said. She asked the woman to detain May, to get him some help. "The response was, 'My child has a program that starts in a few minutes, and it's 4:58, and I don't have time.' " Snagg said.

While Snagg was talking to the woman, May got in his SUV and drove away.

•••

That night, May showed up at Nixon's house uninvited. He was rambling incoherently, according to a police report that describes the incident. Nixon told officers with the Las Cruces Police Department she was afraid for May's safety.

The officers told her they would check on him. But they couldn't find him when they arrived. They knocked on the door to apartment 1403, according to their report.

May lived in 1407.

 
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