From Victim to Activist

Texas

Southwest / Texas 65 Views

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(A Story of Gun Violence

and Mental Illness)

Dr. Ruth Groves – Guest Writer

Over the past year in Texas and throughout the United States we have observed an increase in the number of gun-related violence linked to persons who were allegedly mentally impaired. Many of these horrific crimes are followed by the explanation that the perpetrator may have suffered from mental illness and at some point, displayed warning signs that could be indicative of, or characterized as originating from mental illness. In several instances, the perpetrator had one or more encounters with law enforcement in which little or nothing was done to protect potential future victims from the offender.

Unfortunately, Houston, too, has not been exempt from this societal problem. One such local example is that of Lee Arthur Preston Jr., a resident of the Sunnyside Community and a victim of shocking gun violence perpetrated by an apparently mentally ill neighbor on two separate occasions. His story was covered by the local media. Moreover, the perpetrator is well known to law enforcement and lives in the house right next door to the victim in the Sunnyside Community located in Harris, County Texas. The facts in this instance weave a cautionary tale of the dangerous mix of mental illness and gun violence and clearly demonstrates that at present our society is not adequately prepared to deal with the problem.

Nearly nine years ago, on October 3, 2008, Lee Preston Jr. of Houston, Texas was shot three times by his neighbor whom, he later was informed by her family member that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had a history of mental illness. Having grown up alongside the neighbor, Preston along with most of the neighborhood was keenly aware for years that something “was not quite right with the neighbor”. Preston remembered during her school years she would regularly stand in front of her house and hurdle obscenities and wild rants at people passing by. She would threaten to kill strangers passing by, family members and especially her neighbor Lee Preston. Preston who had been threatened by her on several occasions reported her escalating threatening behaviors against him to her mother who was also her primary caregiver. However, her family was unable to adequately help her and the strange behaviors continued to escalate.
In October of 2008, while Preston and his friend were entering his home, his next door neighbor followed behind them carrying a loaded rifle. Before anyone could get out of harm’s way, she fired. Preston was struck repeatedly—shot in his back-shoulder area, neck, arm, thigh and a ricocheted bullet to the jaw, shattering his front teeth and jaw bone. His prognosis for survival was, at best, bleak and many doubted he would survive. Preston attributes his survival to his strong faith in God. His neighbor was duly arrested and charged.

In 2009 during sentencing the perpetrator was found guilty of aggregated assault and sentenced to seven years in prison. She ultimately served an additional year due to mal-behavior while incarcerated. Astonishingly, to Preston’s dismay, in 2016 she was released to the custody of her mother and returned to her neighborhood home, located right next door to Preston’s resident. Although, Preston was informed prior to her release and petitioned the courts for a restraining order it was denied, thus; predictably opening the door for a second aggravated near fatal assault.

Subsequently, the next attack occurred one day as Preston was mowing his front lawn. The perpetrator got into her car, jumped the curb of his driveway and plowed into an unsuspecting Preston–not stopping until she had run over him at least five times. As he lay motionless on the ground, she unhurriedly parked the car in her mother’s driveway and calmly went back inside the house as if nothing had happened.

Preston was rushed to the hospital, barley clinging to life and eventually placed into intensive care. He sustained a broken arm, a crushed femur and hip, a fractured pelvis, a disfiguring scar that runs from his forehead to his ear (resulting from having been dragged by the car) and still faces many months and years of therapy and reconstructive surgery. Ironically the perpetrator was again sentenced to prison for aggravated assault and is still as of February 2018 awaiting sentencing for this senseless and brutal crime
Regardless of the lack of consensus regarding the correlation between guns and mental health issues, Preston is emphatic that more can and should be done to address this growing problem. Preston says “that we can all agree that people with mental illness have killed and maimed innocent people. More importantly, he states “we must advocate for laws that that will place violent mentally ill offenders in the proper environment where they can access the help that they need. I do not believe prison is the answer; it is like putting a band aid on cancer. As you can see, prison did nothing to cure or rehabilitate the perpetrator, as was evidenced in my case.”

Although he will always have to live with some of the resulting physical trauma of the attacks— Lee A. Preston Jr. has bullet fragments in his face and neck with permanent nerve damage to his arm and leg—he vows never to stop being a voice of change for victims who have suffered at the hands of the mentally ill. Preston’s mission is to fight to challenge politicians and lawmakers throughout this country to change gun laws and to address the ever-present issue of guns and mental illness to stem gun violence.
Preston is one of the blessed individuals who survived to tell his story.

Many have not been so fortunate. As an advocate for change in the way we treat the mentally ill and for a more commonsense approach to gun control, Lee Preston Jr, is available as a resource to assist/support victims as well proactive groups and agencies, or grass roots organizers, the media—radio, television interviews and personal appearances to tell his story and to help with addressing and resolving these issues in our town and in the larger society. For more information or to schedule an appearance by Lee Preston Jr., please E-mail: victimtoactivist@gmail.com.

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