Voices and Silence

It was no secret that Jason Molacek heard voices telling him to murder. Cops, counselors, his parents--they all knew. So why didn't anyone stop him before he shot his mom to death?

Cheryl Molacek was taken to North Memorial Hospital with a hole in her side the size of a fist. She died two months later, at the age of 59. Court records suggest that in the interim, she was concerned about Jason Molacek's well-being.

 

"T here's a long history of effort by many people here. They appear to be good faith efforts to deal with these problems, but from the result it's hardly deniable that the system failed disastrously. If the information we have here is correct, and I see no reason to doubt it, we have a prototypical example of a probably preventable disaster permitted to happen by an unwillingness to spend the necessary money to prevent [it].

"I hope someone will call the attention to the governor, the other politicians who are in the process of curtailing resources available to law enforcement agencies, police departments, courts, probation officers, prosecutors, public defenders, and the agencies responsible for properly addressing mental illness and to the attention of the people, at least some of whom are the same, that propose using limited and diminishing public resources for such things as athletic stadiums, light rail lines, tax reductions, and other expenditures which, at least in my view, ought to be of a lower priority than preventing children from murdering their parents."

--Hennepin County District Court Judge Jack Nordby at Jason Molacek's first sentencing hearing

Jason Molacek grew up in a brown and tan ranch-style house on a quiet street in Maple Grove, the second son of two technicians in the medical devices industry. But Jason reportedly was never close to his brother, 15 years his elder. He was essentially the only child in a second family. Religion played a large role in the family's life. Cheryl and Richard Molacek were practicing Catholics when Jason was little; later, they joined an evangelical church. Court testimony, exhibits, police reports, and other official documents describe scenes of Jason praying frequently with his parents.

He didn't have a lot of friends, and after Cheryl Molacek's shooting neighbors would tell police that they didn't really know him, that he had only been living at home for a few weeks. At 6 foot 3 and 250 pounds, he must have been hard to miss, however.

The best physical description of Molacek comes from Dr. Carl Malmquist, the forensic psychiatrist who evaluated the youth at the request of his attorney. Molacek, Malmquist reported, wears glasses, has acne, and moves awkwardly. He speaks coherently, even though he seems ill at ease. "A remoteness is present with Jason which I do not think is consciously intended," Malmquist notes, "but rather the way he has learned to adapt over the past years of confusion that he has experienced."

According to the report, as a child Molacek saw himself as sensitive and "not emotionally strong." He felt ill-equipped to cope when kids were mean to him. Sometimes he'd say he was sick so that he could get sent to the school nurse's office. He was first treated for mental health problems at the age of six or seven.

As he grew older, he began spending summers with his aunt, who lived in a small town northwest of Detroit Lakes. He later remembered her as a "religious nut" who pushed her kids to study the Bible. When he was 13, he started smoking pot. That same summer, "he began to have experiences of hearing a voice telling him what he was reading."

One day in April 1999, Molacek, then 15, was in study hall when he began to dwell on the thought that one of his teachers had singled him out for criticism. "If I had a gun," he told her, "I'd blow your head off." He was sent to the school counselor; there he said he wanted to break into his father's gun cabinet and kill two of his teachers because they were "harassing him." He also planned to hang himself. The Columbine school shooting had occurred two months earlier, and authorities at Osseo High School reacted swiftly. Molacek was taken to Health East St. Joseph Hospital, where he admitted that he had been thinking about killing himself for several weeks.

After five days, he was discharged with a diagnosis of major depression and attention deficit disorder, given a prescription for Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, and told to follow up with Fairview University Medical Center. When he was seen a few days later for testing, a psychologist diagnosed him with dysthymia (garden-variety depression) and oppositional behavior, and expressed concern over his "avoidant personality traits" and potential for chemical abuse.

The hospital stay marked the start of a cycle of doctors, diagnoses, and treatments that would continue all through Molacek's high school years. According to Malmquist's report and other court documents, his serial encounters with the system resulted in a laundry list of varying diagnoses, and numerous changes in Molacek's medication regime. (Remarkably, unlike many teenagers with mental health problems, Molacek took his medication faithfully.) What's missing from the records is any discussion of a long-term plan for the young man's care.

This doesn't surprise Kevin Turnquist, a local psychiatrist who has written about the mental health system's many failures in dealing with troubled youths. "Anyone looking for instances where the mental health system has failed young people miserably doesn't have to look too far or too hard," says Turnquist. "Unfortunately, we offer these young adults the same hodgepodge of shifting diagnoses--with a pronounced tendency to eventually call them schizoaffective--that we offer everyone else. In fact, making an accurate diagnosis in young people is even more fraught with error than in other populations. Mental illnesses often have to be given time to declare themselves. Good long-term data are needed to make reliable diagnoses or provide a meaningful prognosis. Many of these kids just haven't been ill long enough to have that sort of track record to go on. And separating out behaviors, problems, and attitudes that are attributable to mental illness from those that commonly arise in anyone's teenage years can be difficult indeed.

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