The suspect in a mass shooting at a Florida video game tournament had a history of hospitalization for mental illness — but was still able to legally purchase two handguns.
David Katz of Baltimore was twice treated as an adolescent in psychiatric facilities, and had been prescribed antipsychotic and antidepressant medication, according to court filings from custody proceedings between Katz’s parents, The Associated Press reports.
Katz, 24, an avid gamer and 2017 Madden Club Series Champion known to fellow gamers as “Bread,” opened fire Sunday during a “Madden NFL 19” tournament at the GHLF Game Bar in Jacksonville. He fatally shot two and wounded 10 before killing himself, as previously reported by Oxygen.com.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams declined to say whether police were aware of any motive Katz may have had.
In the weeks before the shooting, Katz legally purchased two handguns from a licensed dealer in Maryland, according to the Baltimore Sun.
When buying firearms, federal law requires purchasers to disclose whether they had ever been involuntarily committed to a mental institution — but there is no federal requirement for psychiatric hospitals or courts to report involuntary commitments to the FBI so that information can be added to the database used for background checks.
Additionally, Maryland law requires firearms purchasers to waive their right to medical privacy so that a state agency can discern whether they suffer from a mental disorder, have a history of violent behavior, or have been confined for at least 30 consecutive days to a mental health facility.
Katz's parents' custody filings do not indicate whether their son's hospital stint was voluntary, but the records do show that both of David’s hospitalizations were for periods of less than 30 days, meaning that Maryland law would not have prohibited him from owning firearms.
“It appears that these disqualifications did not apply to David Katz,” Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told the Associated Press.
Katz was raised in Maryland, the youngest son of Richard Katz, a NASA engineer who designed avionics for spacecraft, and Elizabeth Katz, a toxicologist for the Food and Drug Administration. The couple had two sons, Brandon and David, before divorcing in 2007. A judge gave custody of David to his mother, with visitation rights to the father.
Following their divorce, Richard and Elizabeth waged a bitter, hard-fought custody battle hinging on how best to care for David. Elizabeth favored a regimen of mental health professionals and medication, while David accused his ex-wife of having “an obsession with using mental health professionals and in particular psychiatric drugs to perform the work that parents should naturally do,” according to court records.
Richard Katz also alleged that his ex-wife routinely gave false information to mental health care providers, and described one incident when David locked himself in his mother’s car and refused to go to a mental health appointment with her — so she called police, who handcuffed the troubled teen.
David Katz, according to custody filings, played video games obsessively as a teen, sometimes even refusing to go to school or even take a bath.
“His hair would very often go unwashed for days. When I took his gaming equipment controllers away so he couldn’t play at 3 or 4 in the morning, I’d get up and find that he was just walking around the house in circles,” his mother testified in one court proceeding, according to a transcript in the court files.
One time, she said, she put his gaming equipment in her bedroom and locked the door, but David punched a hole in the door to get the hardware back, she said.
Sometimes, Elizabeth claimed, David “curled up into a ball,” sobbing and refusing to attend school. She claimed that her ex-husband instructed David not to take Risperdal, an antipsychotic medication prescribed to him. The father claimed in court filings that David was not “diagnosed as psychotic.”
David Katz was admitted in late 2007 to Sheppard Pratt, a mental health facility, for about 12 days. He later spent about 13 days at Potomac Ridge, another mental health services facility in Maryland.
David also spent nearly 100 days in a wilderness therapy program in Utah called RedCliff Ascent.
When he turned 16, David wrote a letter in 2010 to the judge supervising the custody dispute between his parents saying he wanted to live with his father, describing his mother as “pretty crazy.” He said she “gets drunk” and had called police on him about 20 times and He blamed her for the poor grades he was earning in school.
Despite all the problems, David graduated from high school in 2011, and went on to the University of Maryland. He did not graduate.
During a court hearing in the Katz’s custody battle over David’s treatment, a psychologist was asked if he believed David Katz could turn violent. The psychologist, Dr. Paul Berman, said there was indeed a risk of violence, according to the Baltimore Sun.
“There is the potential that David could lash out and become so angry that he would hit and hurt his mother,” Berman said in court.
But when asked if David could harm anyone else, Berman said “No, I think Mom would be the target if David did lash out.”
The Baltimore gaming community is shaken by the Madden shooting, even though it occured hundreds of miles away, one area gamer, Chito Peppler, told the Sun.
“There should never be a fear of someone taking our lives because of video games,” Peppler added.
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