When Help Never Comes

If you are still wondering how a 19-year-old young man was able to murder 17 students and faculty in his former Florida high school, how he simply and safely left campus on foot for a repast after his mass murders were accomplished, and how his years of dire distress warnings were ignored by every system in place to prevent tragedies, then you are surely not acquainted with Florida’s high-risk, highly-profitable guardianship system, wherein elders, at the opposite end of the age spectrum as the murder suspect, are warehoused until the ends of their lives and their distress signs are routinely ignored by the systems intended to protect them.

Just suppose you are a family member attempting to protect your elderly loved one, and you call the elder abuse hotline, just as concerned persons had called hotlines and authorities to report the teenage mass murder suspect well before he struck fatal blows to dozens of families. This scenario is not hypothetical to thousands of Florida families who have for dozens of years made fruitless communications to hotlines and multiple agencies, including the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, the local police, the Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the local sheriff, the FBI, and their associated hotlines. All too often, when we report elder abuse, our beloved relatives are left unprotected from abuse, and we whistleblowers are frequently disregarded or targeted as troublemakers.

Although the paperwork from Adult Protective Services states that “Florida law requires DCF [Department of Children and Families] to investigate all reports alleging abuse, neglect, [and] exploitation … [and a DCF investigator] will visit the vulnerable adult within 24 hours of receiving the report,” Florida law is commonly disobeyed by those paid to protect adults at risk.

When my husband and I contacted Adult Protective Services over the course of many months in 2008 and 2009 reporting orally and in writing that our Dad, Al Katz, 89 years old, was being severely abused and neglected by his caretakers, over whom we had no legal control, our reports were routinely refused by the hotline in-take. During that exact same period of time, medical records available to APS but not to us, show that Al Katz was hospitalized and/or received emergency medical treatments for: anxiety; post traumatic stress disorder; acute bronchitis; oversedation; exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder; abrasion to head, swelling, and bleeding; swelling and laceration above eye; acute head injury; acute cervical spine sprain; acute abrasions and contusion around left eye; skull fracture; intracranial hemorrhage; poisoning; scalp laceration; staph urinary tract infection; “urine yellow with clots”; and numerous other medical distress warning signs of elder abuse; yet, the abusers were not removed from Dad’s home by authorities for nearly one year after my elder abuse reports began, and then Dad was put into guardianship, in which further abuse ensued.

In September 2009, Manatee County, Florida, Judges Janette Dunnigan and Paul Logan held guardianship hearings without the presence of Al Katz or any of his family members, during which professional guardians (who are not required to be licensed by the State of Florida) were appointed to assume total control – financial, physical, and medical – over the life of an elder they did not know; while I was not even notified of the hearings.

Within a few days after being put into court-ordered professional guardianship, my Dad was totally isolated from his family and home, locked down in the basement of a city hospital behind electronic metal doors monitored by armed guards. Al Katz, the victim of severe, prolonged elder abuse, had become a Ward of the State of Florida, with fewer rights than a mass murderer; while his abusers remained free on the streets and still are lurking somewhere nearly a decade later.

Within two months, while in court-ordered guardianship, Al Katz’s official designation by his guardians was “IMMINENT DEATH.” During the time Marjorie Ashley Butler and Jonene Eisch had total control over Al Katz’s life, his medical status plummeted as he developed cellulitis, extreme edema, bed sores that lasted for months, a fever of 107 degrees, and sepsis. My petitions filed during this entire time to the court to personally care for my Dad were not granted until he was nearly dead, but G-d spared his dear life for many months to come, when Dad re-learned how to walk, talk, and eat in his own home with me.

Like the school murder victims, most victims of guardianship abuse never have the chance to go home or to re-learn how to walk, talk, and eat. Their pleas to go home are unheard and unheeded like the discounted chilling reports made to authorities about the teenage mass murder suspect before he struck:

It’s just so much and I know he’s going to explode …. I just know I have a clear conscience if he takes off and just starts shooting places up …. It’s alarming to see these pictures [he posts on the Internet] and to know what he’s capable of doing and what could happen … [like] getting into a school and just shooting the place up.

The reports of danger to our elders likewise go unheard and unheeded even after tragedy strikes. It is obvious to families of suffering and of departed victims, young and old, that those responsible for breaking laws that they are paid to enforce or ignoring reports they are paid to thoroughly investigate will never pay in a court of law or through monetary compensation for their crimes and cruelties. It is the victims themselves and their families who pay an infinite price for patterns of malpractice and malfeasance pervasive in the professions intended to protect the vulnerable.

Although scores of persons in authority from social workers to the FBI knew about the suspect’s long dark history of violence and his threats of future violence, especially directed at schools, they paid no heed to the inestimable, irreparable harm he could and would and did do. Did anyone really believe that a long-time at-risk teenage male who ingested gasoline and mutilated his own arms on the Internet was not at great risk of harming himself and others? Social workers and mental health professionals investigating these incidents all gave the suspect a low-risk assessment. When a violent teen boasts on the Internet that he wants to be a “professional school shooter,” who would believe he poses no threat to society, particularly to students trapped inside of a school?

Our nation cannot stand on its abysmal record of neglect of duty and law by those in positions of power. Their doors are shut to us in need; their ears are closed to those in crisis; and their hearts do not give us access to them. We families know pain all too well – the sickening feelings of loss of loved ones stemming from doors and ears and hearts that are vacuum-sealed. How many lives are sacrificed for nothing more than cries and pleas for help that go unheard and unanswered? How many lives? How many lives? We ask you how many lives?

We are told at every turn to rely upon the authorities for protection when their protection may never arrive, and death awaits. As lives are lost and suffering is ceaseless, more children and elders remain in crisis without recourse or resources reachable to them and their loved ones. Our reports are destroyed, discarded, and disregarded. They are dead ends. If you want to hold some accountable for the senseless murders of seventeen on Sweetheart’s Day, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 2018, then first in line must be the recipients of every dead-end report that preceded this preventable mass murder by a man who was reported again and again and again in a long dead-end trail of blood; for dead-end reports cause deaths.

“Lions don’t care about the opinions of sheep,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, whose office received scores of reports for years about the suspect’s dangerous behaviors before the mass murder occurred and whose deputy refused to enter the school while its students were under siege, the school to which he was assigned as the security officer, as dozens died inside.

“Lions don’t care about the opinions of sheep” or about the reports they file. Dead-end reports cause deaths. Bah-h-h-h-h ….

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