KILLER IN MY CLASSROOM?

Don Reed
4 min readMay 18, 2024

By Don C. Reed

The story I am about to tell you is true, subject only to the vagaries of memory…

Call him Y. He was a student in my 8th grade English classroom, someone I had known for a long time, because we used to give him rides to various sports practices.

He seemed normal enough, at first.

But one day he turned in an essay that startled me. It was about an English teacher who used to work at Marine World, and who was astonishingly ugly and stupid…it went on and on, 17 specific insults, unmistakably a depiction of me.

I had never seen anything like this before, so I took it to the Principal, who blinked and said he had never seen anything like this before.

There was much talk and Y came in and apologized and that was that- except we talked on the way back to class, and I asked him, had I ever been mean or unfair to him? He said no. So why…?? He shrugged, not seeming to know.

I came to believe he had been joking — but he did not seem to realize that a line had been crossed, nor that there were any lines at all.

As time passed, I heard bits and pieces of his life story: that he had tried to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, but had been stopped by a kindly couple who had essentially adopted him. And then, things went very bad. He had gotten into drugs, and apparently was using his own product. He seemed to have become paranoid, thinking his companions had turned against him.

He took three friends up into the hills, opened his car trunk, took out a shotgun — and killed one friend and wounded another.. He handed the gun to the survivor, said he would not be needing this anymore and roared off, fast as he could. He saw a policeman, involved him in a high-speed chase, turned his own car over.

He was tried and convicted, sentenced to die, put on Death Row.

But I will always believe what I told his lawyer in a phone conference; that Y was damaged; that his brain was just not right.

The fact that he killed two people cannot ever be erased; their families’ lives are forever ruined.

But his life too was broken, and from early on. I cannot help but wonder: was there something physically wrong with his brain? And if so, could it have been spotted earlier, and perhaps repaired?

He died “of undetermined causes” while on Death Row, San Quentin, California, April 20th, 2021. (1)

Did he have a mental illness, perhaps a form of schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia afflicts 1.1% of the American population, roughly 3 million people. The symptoms are hallucinations (hearing voices, or seeing things which are not there) — and sometimes deep feelings of persecution.

Violence? “Thankfully, violent behavior is extremely rare. Most people with schizophrenia are never violent and do not display any dangerous behavior. However, a small number do become violent when they are suffering from the acute psychosis…tragically , many people with schizophrenia succeed in killing themselves.” (2)

Life-long drug treatment can help keep symptoms in check, but there is no cure — and as many as ten per cent surrender to the disease by taking their own lives.

Is there a cure for this nightmare?

(Note: I am neither scientist nor physician; the following is offered for the readers’ interest; the scientists cited are the experts. Any errors are mine.)

While working at Sanford-Burnham, Dr. Christina Chatzi asked herself: if one kind of nerve cell (neuron) caused a mental illness, could a second kind inhibit it?

Specifically, “Knowing that some inhibitory neurons rely on…retinoic acid (a form of vitamin A) Dr. Chazi wondered if exposing embryonic stem cells to retinoic acid might result in these inhibitory neurons.” (3)

Working with Greg Duester in his lab, Chatzi found that mice which could not make the retinoic acid in their bodies had a “serious deficiency in (certain) neurons…that deficiency has been associated with …neurological disorders, including schizophrenia “. In other words, lack of retinoic acid in the body might bring on mental problems.

One of America’s top neurologists is Dr. Rusty Gage of UCSD. He is fighting the condition from an entirely different angle — not the nerve cells themselves, but the spaces and connections between them.

Stanford’s Marius Wernig points to a protein which might be deadly. If Myty1 (Mighty-one-L) has mutations , there could be problems. (These) mutations have been found in people with autism, schizophrenia, major depression, and low IQ…(4)

Maybe in years to come, newborns will be tested for potential mental illness, and (if the parents wish) be treated for it before they leave the hospital.

All I know for sure is that the tragedy of Y ruined three young people’s lives, as well as devastating their families.

Schizophrenia has no place in anyone’s life.

1. https://patch.com/california/sanrafael/condemned-san-quentin-inmate-dies

2. https://livingwithschizophreniaup.org/information-sheets/schizophrenia-and-and-dangerous-behavior/

3. https://www.cirm.ca.gov/blog/04122011/making-neurons-lose-their-inhibitions

4. https://blog.cirm.ca.gov/2017/04/05/cirm-funded-team-uncovers-novel=fundtion-linked-to-autism-and-schizophrenia/

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Don Reed

For 23 years, Don C. Reed has supported medical research, ever since his son Roman Reed was paralyzed in a college football accident.