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Remembering Kendra Webdale and so many others

by Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of Treatment Advocacy Center, cross-posted from the TAC blog January 3, 2007

Eight years ago, Kendra Webdale, a vibrant, beautiful young woman was pushed to her death from a subway platform in New York City by a man with schizophrenia, who man had a documented history of assaults and failing to follow prescribed medication regimens.

At that time, advocates like DJ Jaffe had been working for at least 10 years in New York toward a statewide assisted oupsytpatient treatment law. The commitment to Kendra's family to prevent the tragedy of untreated mental illness, coupled with then-Attorney General Elliot Spitzer's political will, finally succeeded in achieving the reality of Kendra's Law for assisted outpatient treatment in New York. All those who are being helped by Kendra's Law in New York today are indebted to the Webdales, particularly Kendra's mother Pat, who continues to advocate and chairs the Assisted Outpatient Treatment Quality Improvement Panel sponsored by New York's Office of Mental Health.

In addition to mourning Kendra, today is a day to remember some other random victims of the violence that is sometimes a result of untreated mental illness ... and the families who have, like the Webdales, opened their hearts to try to help others.

Edgar Rivera, who lost his legs after being pushed from a N.Y. subway platform in April 1999, epitomized grace and understanding when he lamented that although he lost his legs, at least he had his mind, unlike his assailant.

Linda Gregory partnered with Alice Petrie, the sister of the man who shot her husband in the line of duty as a sheriff's deputy. Their successful advocacy lead to Florida's adoption of AOT and they continue to advocate for more humane treatment.

Amanda and Nick Wilcox's daughter was killed at a mental health center in California by a man with untreated mental illness. They are fighting to get their county to adopt Laura's Law.

There are so many others-- too many to mention here-- but we particularly want to remember 11-year-old Gregory Katsnelson who was killed while riding his bike, by a young man whose family was told he was not "dangerous" enough to be helped. Before he killed Gregory that day, he also killed his own mother. Gregory would be 15 years old now -- the Katnselsons have spent the last 4 years trying to persuade New Jersey legislators to become the 43rd state to adopt an AOT law. The Senate, under the leadership of Governor Codey, passed the bill last year.

Our hope for the New Year is that the Katsnelsons will succeed as other families have in making a terrible tragedy into a legacy of hope for others ... and that better laws and better usage of and understanding of the laws that exist will mean fewer sad anniversaries like today.