Mobile Website | Login | Register
Staff Directory | Advertise | Subscribe | About Us
Business Government Politics Region Crime/Public Safety Education People E-edition Ashburn Hamilton Hillsboro Lansdowne Leesburg Lovettsville Middleburg Purcellville River Creek Round Hill Sterling
Basketball Football Youth Wrestling Gymnastics Swimming Volleyball Baseball Track Golf Cheer Cross Country Schedule Scores
Brambleton Community of Faith Hangin in the Nosebleeds Journal Entry Loudoun Essence Made in Loudoun Odd Angles River Creek & Lansdowne South Riding Sterling, Cascades & CountrySide
This Week's Slideshow Browse All Galleries Your Best Dish Featured Video The Virginians
  • Announcements
  • Autos
  • Jobs
  • Legals
  • Homes
  • YardSales
  • Submit an Ad
  • Newspaper Advertising Online Advertising
    Classified listings Homes section
    Opinions
    Editorial | Wednesday, Oct. 1
    EDITORIAL: “Justifiable” shooting can’t justify response to mental illness
    And I, for winking at your discords too,
    Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punish'd.


    – “Romeo and Juliet”

    It is impossible to know, or to comprehend, what went on in the head of Christian Sierra.

    Tortured by his own thoughts and chased by demons, the troubled 17-year-old jumped from the second floor of a townhouse and ran through a residential neighborhood in Purcellville carrying a knife. He had cut himself repeatedly around the head and neck, threatening to kill himself. Friends and neighbors tried to come to the aid of the fleeing youth and tried to wrest the knife away from him. Christian broke away and walked toward a police officer.

    Drop the weapon, the police officer yelled. Christian kept coming. Drop the weapon, he repeated. Christian kept coming. When Christian came within 10 feet, raising the knife, the police officer fired a single shot into his chest. Christian kept coming. The officer fired three more shots into his chest from 5 feet. Christian fell to the ground at his feet. The young, troubled life of Christian Sierra was over.

    Last week after a four-month investigation by Virginia State Police, the shooting was ruled justifiable, absolving the police officer of any wrongdoing. “There really wasn't time for this officer to do anything else,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman. “No amount of training in dealing with the mentally ill trumps the safety of an officer or of the public.”

    Anticipating the decision, a Purcellville citizens group called for a special investigation into police procedures and training, as well as legislation in the commonwealth that would bring “peaceful change to help protect all of our citizens from police brutality especially those who may be mentally ill and or suicidal.”

    “There really wasn’t time.” But there was. The time to help Christian Sierra came months, even years before he confronted a police officer with a knife.
    The state police report reads like a Shakespeare tragedy. The ghosts that haunted Christian Sierra visited him for years. The Purcellville Police Department had been called to his home repeatedly since 2009. His parents, friends and community, as well as county courts and agencies, have long been aware of his problems. Yet Christian slipped through the cracks. He needed help and received neither the help nor the care he needed.
    Plowman concluded that Christian’s history, while relevant, was not a factor in the legal analysis of the investigation.

    Relevant, but not a factor. That’s where Christian’s story becomes Shakespearean. As in a Shakespeare play, many people came in and out of Christian’s life without exorcising his demons or keeping him safe. He needed help and didn’t get it.

    The story is not a new one. A Times-Mirror series in 2012 by now Managing Editor Crystal Owens disclosed the shortcomings of the mental health system in Virginia and Loudoun County through the stories of real people struggling with mental illness. Virginia ranks 48th in the nation for funding for mental health. At the local level, agencies are strapped for funding and adequate personnel.

    Consider that, in Christian Sierra’s case, friends called the county’s suicide hotline but were put on hold in the critical minutes before he was killed.

    “I'm not sure words can describe someone's reaction when they've lost a child,” Plowman said after meeting with Christian’s family.

    Those are words that our elected officials should heed now. Virginia needs better procedures to deal with citizens who suffer from mental illness. Law enforcement officials require better training to handle delicate, life-changing situations in our communities. The officer who shot Christian Sierra was a relatively new officer who had served in the military in Afghanistan and had not received the kind of training to adequately deal with a suicidal teenager acting threateningly.

    Virginia also requires new legislation that addresses shortcomings in funding mental health programs and strengthening the agencies that help the victims of mental illness.

    There are two definitions for the word “justify.” One is to show or prove to be right or reasonable. The other is to declare or make righteous in the sight of God. In Christian Sierra’s death, we have failed at one.

    Christian Sierra is everyone’s child. As parents, and as citizens, we should demand more than a legal ruling about his death. There is no way to justify the sadness, the helplessness or utter senselessness of his death.

    All are punish’d.

    Submit a Letter
    The argument for full-day kindergarten
    Wed., Oct. 1 | 09:00 AM
    Foust best choice to succeed Wolf
    Wed., Oct. 1 | 09:00 AM
    Comstock program inspires young women
    Wed., Oct. 1 | 08:30 AM
    Foust revealed shortcomings at debate
    Wed., Oct. 1 | 08:30 AM
    Transportation policy puts children at risk
    Wed., Sep. 24 | 10:00 AM
    2 comments
    REBUTTAL: Bad air is bad news for Loudoun
    Wed., Sep. 24 | 09:45 AM
    Domestic violence is our problem
    Wed., Sep. 24 | 09:30 AM
    COMMUNITY VIEW: Is it OK to spank your child?
    Wed., Sep. 24 | 09:00 AM
    1 comment
    Citizens denied input in judicial selection process
    Wed., Sep. 24 | 08:00 AM
    Comstock can get economy moving
    Wed., Sep. 17 | 09:30 AM
    7 comments
    Lawmakers can create healthy future
    Wed., Sep. 17 | 09:00 AM
    Full-day kindergarten supported
    Wed., Sep. 17 | 08:30 AM
    3 comments
    Foust can solve partisan gridlock
    Wed., Sep. 17 | 08:00 AM
    Full-day kindergarten
    Wed., Sep. 10 | 11:00 AM
    7 comments
    COMMUNITY VIEW: It’s time to fulfill the promise of equality
    Wed., Sep. 10 | 10:30 AM
    2 comments
    COMMUNITY VIEW: EPA’s rules lead to responsible leadership
    Wed., Sep. 10 | 10:00 AM
    1 comment
    Six questions and a prayer
    Wed., Sep. 10 | 09:00 AM
    1 comment
    ASK DR. MIKE: Addressing Robin Williams’ suicide as a teachable moment
    Wed., Sep. 3 | 10:00 AM
    1 comment
    COMMUNITY VIEW: EPA’s coal regulations matter for Northern Va.
    Wed., Sep. 3 | 10:00 AM
    1 comment
    Time to recognize Lyndon LaRouche
    Wed., Sep. 3 | 09:00 AM
    County rates full-day kindergarten
    Tue., Sep. 2 | 08:34 PM
    3 comments
    Cleaning up Sterling Park
    Wed., Aug. 27 | 06:27 PM
    1 comment
    Achieving the common good
    Wed., Aug. 27 | 06:25 PM
    COMMUNITY VIEW: Judges undermine Pillars of the American Republic
    Wed., Aug. 27 | 06:22 PM
    COMMUNITY VIEW: Lessons from Ferguson
    Wed., Aug. 27 | 06:19 PM
    2 comments
    COMMUNITY VIEW: Election is time to engage, take action
    Wed., Aug. 20 | 10:00 AM
    2 comments
    Paying attention to sadness
    Wed., Aug. 20 | 10:00 AM
    Let’s not forget about Purcellville shooting
    Wed., Aug. 20 | 09:30 AM
    Kindergarten warrants ranking, too
    Wed., Aug. 20 | 09:00 AM
    4 comments
    Letter: Open borders threaten America’s viability, quality of life
    Wed., Aug. 13 | 12:17 PM
    2 comments
    Get Our Headlines Via Email
    Tuesdays:  
    Thursdays:

    StayConnected

    Follow Us
    on Twitter

    News | Sports

    Like Us
    on Facebook

    News & Sports

    Join Our
    Email List

    Sign up for
    weekly updates
    The Loudoun Times-Mirror

    is an interactive, digital replica
    of the printed newspaper.
    Open the e-edition now.

    Loudoun Business Journal - Summer 2014

    Loudoun Business Journal - Spring 2014