On April 15th, 2014, Bermuda shorts day, the last day of class for students at the University of Calgary, Matthew de Grood entered a house party in the Brentwood area that was winding down. Inside the house there was 23 year old Kaitlin Perras, 27 year old Lawrence Hong, 23 year old Josh Hunter, 21 year old Zackariah Rathwell, and 22 year old Jordan Segura. Matt was only 24 himself at the time. Matt grabbed a ten inch kitchen knife and stabbed all five of the pre-mentioned victims. All five of the young, promising students ended up dying from their wounds. It’s the deadliest mass murder in the city of Calgary’s history.
On May 25th, 2016, over two years later, Matthew de Grood was found not criminally responsible (NCR) for the murders. Two of the three expert witnesses suggest that de Grood leaned towards schizophrenia, and all three believe that he was suffering from a psychotic episode at the time of the stabbings. The question now remains. Was the NCR verdict correct?
The events that transpired were during a psychotic episode, keep that in mind. Matt de Grood thought he was an alien fighting werewolves, vampires and members of the Illuminati when the attack happened. He was under the impression the world was coming to an end. He bought a garlic supplement from the Safeway where he worked the night of the murders. Before the attack, he texted his parents a few bizarre messages. They became worried, and the father, a former investigator for the police, went looking for him, while his mother sent an alert to the authorities. They were concerned he had become suicidal.
Up until two months before the attacks, Matt was an exemplary student at the University of Calgary, and employed at nearby Safeway in the produce department. His boss described him as “… a really nice guy. He was very caring to people, an all around good person”. Two months before the attack, his co-workers noted he became paranoid, and started acting irrationally.
Matthew de Grood gave a statement via his lawyer, saying how deeply sorry and apologetic he was for the deaths of the five people who lost their lives two years ago. I’m not certain if Matt actually understands the gravity of his situation since the attack, due to his condition. While it is possible that, with time and treatment, Matthew de Grood could be reinstated into society, there’s also the possibility that he will remain in a psychiatric health facility for the rest of his life.
NCR states that a person is not responsible for the crime that occurred. The NCR defense isn’t concerned with person’s current mental state, but rather the stare of the perpetrator when then offence took place. The NCR verdict isn’t a failure of our judicial system. What it highlights, however, is our societies failure to recognize and seek treatment for those who are suffering from mental health issues.
I’ve heard comments that some people wish to have Matt locked away for the rest of his life. Others want him put away in jail. I’ve heard some people talking about the death penalty.
We can’t bring back the people who lost their lives on that tragic night. The only thing we can do is move forward, and our actions today will pave the way for future tragedies. Matt de Grood didn’t murder five people on that night. Mental illness did. The decision the courts made was the right one. If we don’t examine this man, if we don’t question him, learn from him, study him, and medicate him, then we are doomed to repeat this tragedy. We need to start learning the signs, recognizing when someone is losing their grip on reality. This will happen again unless we start to take mental illness seriously.
Placing the blame on Matt for the murders is akin to placing the blame on a cancer patient for getting sick. Matt suffers from an illness. It’s not a well-known illness, defining it has been difficult, with the three expert witnesses not coming to a conclusion as to what he suffers from, but he does have something terribly wrong with him. Matt wasn’t on drugs at the time, he wasn’t drunk. There’s nothing to pin on Matt, except that he’s crazy. That he’s mentally ill.
These things happen, and they will continue to happen until society as a whole starts treating mental health issues seriously. This is something that affects everyone, our society as a whole, not just the person who suffers from it. If you’re interested in justice for the victims, understand the problem isn’t going to go away if we locked de Grood up and throw away the key. We can only honor those who were killed by making a conscious effort to learn why it happened in the first place. Calling someone crazy or sick isn’t going to cut it.
The Illustrious Mr. Charlton
If you sincerely want to honour them, then support those who are looking for a reason as to why it happened, and how this sort of thing can prevented in the future. Looking for punishment isn’t going to make your world any safer.