Monday, October 19, 2009

Dallas News Reports on Byron Truvia (and the TYC response to "psych" discharges)

Here's a link to a press release on Truvia's uncle who killed his mother (Truvia's grandmother).
Student held in Tyler teacher's stabbing had long history of mental illness

01:03 AM CDT on Sunday, October 18, 2009

By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News

TYLER – Todd Henry's phone call was chilling, Mitch Shamburger would later recall. His friend had an instinct for trouble.

A bear of a man, Henry had worked in prisons and now taught kids with behavioral issues at John Tyler High School. He was seldom rattled. Yet Shamburger, a Smith County justice of the peace, could hear the worry in his friend's voice.
Also Online

TYC defends release procedures

Download: Byron's TYC discharge certification

Download: TYC case plan for Byron

Henry described a student in his special-education class with a menacing vibe. The student was a "Katrina kid" – shorthand for New Orleans transplants blown into Tyler by Hurricane Katrina.

"This kid – he's got serious problems," Henry told Shamburger. "If somebody doesn't do something, soon, this kid is going to kill somebody."

The JP recalls advising his friend to document his concerns and alert his bosses. Henry said he already had.

Days later, on the morning of Sept. 23, Todd Henry, who was 50, lay bleeding to death in classroom A23 of John Tyler High. In the hallway outside, a wraith of a boy named Byron was hustled away to face charges of stabbing his teacher in the heart with a butcher knife. A Texas Education Agency spokesman says it is the first teacher slaying in a Texas classroom that anyone in the agency can recall.

Smith County prosecutors are considering whether to ask to try the 16-year-old as an adult. He's being held as a juvenile, so his court files are sealed. The Dallas Morning News is not using Byron's family name because the newspaper generally does not publish names of juvenile defendants.

Troubling descent

Records and information from Byron's family and others familiar with him, from public sources and from people close to the ongoing murder investigation, offer a portrait of a long spiral into mental illness and violence. Byron's lawyer and others say the case spotlights deficiencies in how Texas handles its most disturbed and violent juvenile offenders.

Byron's mother says her youngest son was first diagnosed with problems in kindergarten. By 12, she says, Byron had been in mental hospitals in Texas and Louisiana. At 14, he was in a Smith County juvenile lockup and then in a Texas juvenile prison for stabbing his sister with a steak knife.

TYC often held him in isolation and at one point sent him to a state mental hospital. He was diagnosed schizophrenic and psychotic and transferred to the state's most acute mental health facility for juvenile offenders. Last July, the agency declared Byron too disturbed for reform school. TYC sent Byron home to his mother without parole or treatment plans, according to records the family released to The News.

In mid-August, Byron was arrested again for marijuana possession and Tyler police tried to return him to jail. He was released to his mother because Smith County's juvenile detention center refused to take him back, according to a police report.

Even Byron's mother says he shouldn't have been in Henry's classroom. He sees and hears things other people don't, she says, and he needs help. Henry was a caring teacher, she says, and Byron regrets "what all he did. He said, 'Mom, just tell everybody that I'm sorry.' "

A life coming together

By all accounts, Todd Henry's life was coming together as Byron's imploded.

Henry was a teenager when his family moved to Huntsville from Chicago. Henry's oldest brother, Jody, says he found his identity playing guitar.

After college and out-of-state interludes, Henry came home to live with his mother after his father died. He had music and psychology degrees and certification as a music therapist, so he took a state prison job. He worked longest at the Skyview psychiatric unit in Rusk.

Friends and family say Henry grooved on using music to connect with prisoners others labeled unreachable. But he wearied of work behind bars. "He started to feel like he was in prison," Jody Henry says.

Equally adept at jazz, country and rock guitar, Henry was in demand as a side man with bands across East Texas. He decided to quit his prison job and focus on music until something better appeared.

It did in 2003. He started teaching special education and took a job in 2005 at John Tyler High. There, he taught kids with behavioral issues, assisted by a teacher's aide. "He absolutely loved it," his brother says. "This was what he was meant to do."

He was 6 feet tall and 300-plus pounds, his bald head offset by owlish glasses and a beard. Colleagues say he was easygoing yet firm. "Just do what you do," read his MySpace motto, "and don't sweat the small stuff."

His wife, Jan, says he wanted to help kids who often felt marginalized get fully involved in school. The two worked together in his first special-education teaching post and married last November.

In prison work, she recalls him saying, too many people were beyond reach. As a teacher, he'd say, "I can start earlier. I can make a difference."

Early problems

Byron came up poor and hard in New Orleans, the third of four kids to a single mother. The state of Louisiana had to take his father to court to acknowledge paternity and pay child support.

He grew up in the same Central City neighborhood where his mother did. There, she was once attacked badly enough to need hospitalization while walking her first baby past a neighborhood housing project, court records indicate.

His mother joined the National Guard and went on welfare. She worked as a cashier and sitter and sometimes struggled, she recalls.

Byron was born two months premature. His mother says her baby boy was a quiet child who shadowed his big brother. He loved Popeye cartoons and liked to draw fish and people, cars and trucks.

Then he started kindergarten, and teachers said Byron was incommunicative and hyperactive.

By the age of 7, he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and prescribed Ritalin. Though that calmed him "a little bit," his mother says, there were soon more problems and doctors and psychiatric drugs.

"None of 'em really helped," Byron's mother says. "All they wanted to do is give him medication."

In the summer of 2005, his mother says, Byron ended up in New Orleans' public mental hospital for children and teens.

She recalls that Byron had been hospitalized a month as Hurricane Katrina neared New Orleans. He was evacuated with other patients. His mother says she and other family waded through neck-deep water to take shelter at the high school she'd attended. There, they waited days for a helicopter rescue.

They expected to land in Houston. A bus took them to Tyler, a town they'd never heard of.

Family violence

A church guided Byron's mother to a food-service job and an apartment. Still, she says, the family's adjustment was tough. She called 911 to complain about local kids wanting to fight her children, Tyler police records indicate. There were disturbance calls. Eventually, most of the family had misdemeanor records.

Byron didn't join them in Tyler, his mother says, until 2006. After Katrina, she says, he was sent to a facility in Corpus Christi and treated for "five or six months." Byron enrolled in the Tyler schools that March, records show.

By Christmas 2006, Byron was arrested for breaking into a Mazda Miata at the Tyler mall.

Byron's maternal grandmother and youngest uncle settled in Dallas. The uncle struggled with mental illness and went back to New Orleans. In early April 2007, the grandmother rode a bus to Louisiana to check on him.

Her battered body was discovered in the uncle's FEMA trailer over Easter weekend, with her tongue nearly ripped out. Despite a psychiatrist's testimony that the uncle was schizophrenic, a New Orleans jury rejected an insanity plea and sent him to prison for life.

Byron took his grandmother's death hard, his mother says.

Weeks after the funeral, Byron's mother called 911 to say her son was "acting crazy" and wouldn't take his psychiatric medication. Officers who came to her apartment watched him take the drugs.

On June 2, Byron attacked his 17-year-old sister. Byron's sister told police that Byron complained she took too long at a bathroom mirror and stabbed her in the back with a steak knife as she combed her hair.

Once arrested, Byron gave police his brother's name and birth date. Officers had to call Byron's mother to confirm who he was. A police report states that Byron then said he'd "forgotten to take his medicine, which he takes to keep from acting out."

Byron spent months in the county's juvenile lockup. He got in trouble for sucker-punching other inmates. Asked why, he'd say be didn't like how they looked at him.

Byron's mother says that the court-appointed lawyer in the sister's stabbing case tried to get Byron sent to a mental hospital. In October 2007, Byron was sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission. His mother recalls being told he might be in juvenile prison until he turned 19.

Last March, Byron was moved to the Corsicana "stabilization unit" for TYC's most disturbed and dangerous offenders. In May, he was still so unstable that he was committed to Terrell State Hospital for 22 days.

In July, TYC gave Byron's mother a new care plan. Byron had diagnoses of conduct disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis and probable mental retardation. He read below the third-grade level and had math skills of a child midway through second grade. "No college in this young man's near future," his TYC caseworker wrote.

Home care

The case plan had a single answer for how Byron and his family would get help after he left TYC: "Youth will go home to his mother."

The bottom line: Byron was getting a mental-illness discharge.

On July 19, Byron was released. TYC workers gave his mother a 30-day supply of an antipsychotic drug and a form letter urging her to make Byron take the medicine. Byron got a certificate saying he had no further legal obligation to TYC – a release without parole.

"We hope you will use the skills you learned to make good decisions and have a positive impact on your community," the certificate said. "The entire Texas Youth Commission Family wishes you success in your future endeavors."

The next day, Byron's mother took him to a Tyler mental health clinic. She wrote on an intake form that her son had mental problems, hallucinated and used "weed" and cocaine. "My son need help," she wrote in shaky letters.

At home, she says, Byron hung out with his brother. He watched movies, and she drove him to the park.

Police called her in mid-August to say they'd arrested Byron for walking down a street smoking "a blunt" of marijuana. They said she needed to come get him.

"I said, 'You saw how he was acting, and you want me to come get him?' " she recalls. "They said, 'This is your child, isn't he?' "

Three days later, Byron began ninth grade at John Tyler High.

Concerns in class

Todd Henry had a slow start to the school year. Beginning on Aug. 19, he took two weeks off to recuperate from shoulder surgery. He had been injured in a hallway scuffle the previous year.

On Sept. 8, Henry returned to school. Days later, he called his friend and weekend band mate, Mitch Shamburger, to say he was worried about the new kid in his class. Shamburger says he phoned the county juvenile justice center. He recalls asking about Byron and getting a vague response.

The week of Sept. 15, Byron's mother says, a neighbor flagged her down on her way home from her morning work shift. The neighbor said she'd just seen Byron angry in the yard. The mother found Byron brooding in their North Tyler rental house, unwilling to talk.

That evening, Henry called. Byron's mother says the teacher explained that Byron had gotten angry and had run away from class. "He just wanted to know that Byron made it home," Byron's mother recalls. "He was very nice."

On Sept. 17, a John Tyler special-ed official sent seven school staffers an e-mail about Byron. She said that Henry had recommended an escort for Byron to and from every class. "It has also been observed that Byron is very sensitive to anyone getting physically near him or touching him," the e-mail said. "Please try to get his attention without physical contact."

By all accounts, the morning of Sept. 23 began normally. Byron donned a red polo and jeans and white Air Nikes. He shouldered a dark backpack and boarded his school bus in North Tyler.

Witnesses said that Byron went to John Tyler High's cafeteria as usual with his teacher's aide and the other student in his class. As they got breakfast, other students scuffled. Once they were back in classroom A-23, another teacher asked Henry to counsel a student about the cafeteria incident.

At his desk, Henry spoke quietly with the visiting student. Byron read aloud to the teacher's aide. The second student in the class worked alone. The aide corrected Byron's pronunciation and praised his effort. Then he told Byron he could return to his desk and read a book he liked, about football.

Witnesses said that Byron passed his desk and kept walking toward Henry. Without a word, he pulled a knife from his clothes and swung it.

When Byron pulled back his hand, the aide could see the knife's eight-inch blade covered in blood. Henry slumped in his chair. A dark red circle spread across his green shirt.

Byron moved toward the aide. The aide grabbed his laptop and swung it, screaming, "Get out!" Byron dropped the knife and the aide jumped him.

School district police officers chatting in the hall just outside the classroom turned toward the commotion. The classroom door flew open. The teacher's aide rushed out, restraining Byron in a bear hug. He yelled that a teacher had been stabbed.

Several officers grabbed the student, who had bloody hands. Others ran in the classroom and saw Henry motionless on the floor between his desk and the chalkboard.

Frantic school nurses and coaches administered CPR and tried using a defibrillator. Henry was declared dead at a Tyler hospital. His wife Jan says she believes he died instantly because the stab wound punctured his heart.


Immediately after the attack, Tyler school officials announced the purchase of portable metal detectors and a security review.

Friends and family, colleagues and students crowded a memorial service for Henry. Mitch Shamburger gave the eulogy. Musicians that Henry had played with every weekend for decades held jam sessions to raise money for a music scholarship in Henry's name.

At one prayer service, a woman handed Jan Henry a carefully typed note. The woman explained that it was from her son, the other student in Henry's class.

"God will judge Mr. Henry and I believe He will say Mr. Henry was the best teacher ever," the note read. "He taught me to do things in a routine. He taught me how to write in cursive. He taught me how to spell words. He taught me how to read better. He was trying to teach me how to cope. Out of all my teachers, he was the best one, because he was always fair with me."

In early October, Byron smiled as he shuffled into a public detention hearing. He wore arm restraints and appeared thin in his oversized orange jumpsuit. He answered the judge's questions softly. He was still smiling, scanning the courtroom with puffy eyes, as he was sent back to an isolation cell.

Byron's court-appointed lawyer, James Huggler told the judge that his client needs a mental evaluation – the first step in an insanity defense.

"I'm absolutely amazed that he was released from TYC, given his mental state and the fact that he was apparently kept in isolation with no effective treatment and no effective after-care program for his return home," Huggler says. "Byron needs treatment."

Tyler School superintendent Randy Reid says colleagues have called him from across Texas to offer condolences. He says they've told him that the attack was every superintendent's worst nightmare because it could happen anywhere.

He says he can't discuss the student involved because of privacy law. He and other educators worry that schools don't get adequate information when TYC releases offenders. Public school systems must take everyone, he adds, but some kids have issues that schools can't address.

"We're putting people in a position where they aren't equipped," he says.

Though a review of the attack is ongoing, Reid says, he believes staff acted appropriately. "It's an incredible tragedy that we're going to be living with forever."

A TYC spokesman declined to answer questions about Byron, citing privacy laws.

Texas Youth Commission defends release procedures for offenders it can't help

12:06 AM CDT on Sunday, October 18, 2009

By LEE HANCOCK / The Dallas Morning News

Texas Youth Commission officials say state law requires the release of juvenile offenders who are too mentally challenged or disturbed to make progress in its programs. Those offenders are released after completing a minimum stay, determined by the seriousness of their offenses and disciplinary records.

The agency has had 206 mental health discharges since fall 2005 – 19 since October 2008.

An agency spokesman says TYC coordinates mental illness discharges with local officials to ensure adequate re-entry plans. A new law that took effect in September is aimed at ensuring adequate community mental health treatment for all former TYC inmates.

That law is among the latest TYC reform measures. TYC was rocked by scandal in 2007 when The Dallas Morning News began exposing widespread inmate abuse and other systemic agency problems.

A recent Texas Sunset Commission report slammed TYC's handling of all discharges. The report noted that discharge rules for offenders who fail to progress "may prevent the most troubled youth from receiving treatment."

The July report also criticized a lack of information sharing with local authorities before most offenders were released. Offenders weren't being prepared for going home, and TYC failed to use valid risk assessments to ensure their readiness, the report stated.

Agency spokesman Jim Hurley said TYC has addressed shortcomings. Staffers start planning for release when offenders arrive at TYC facilities. "We're working with their parents. We're working with the community" he says. "We want to be sure there are wraparound services available for that particular youth, to give them the greatest chance for success."

No comments: