Family thwarted in getting Laura the help she so desperately needs

Editor's note: This was written by the brother and mother of Laura K. Sorensen, 20, the woman who was charged Monday with two counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree assault in a shooting Saturday at a Key Peninsula store.

Please know that Laura’s friends and family have had the recovery and well-being of the victims foremost on our minds since the incident at the Peninsula Market. We cannot begin to express our personal sorrow for the horrific events of Saturday morning.

Please know that Laura has had a very long and very complicated history of mental illness. We have spent the last 10 years trying to get Laura the type of care she so desperately needed and still needs today.

Our family wrote a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire on Aug. 19, 2011 (excerpted at right) stating that tragedy was in Laura’s future if the mental health crisis response system in this state did not reform to meet the needs of the mentally ill residents in this community.

Laura was hospitalized several times as a juvenile and as an adult. Since then, funding cuts have made it all but impossible to have mentally ill individuals involuntarily hospitalized in the state of Washington, even if mental health professionals and family members agree that hospitalization is needed in order to prevent a tragedy like the one that happened Saturday.

On the day of the event, Laura showed none of the signs we have come to recognize as warnings of potential violent behavior. It was a relatively normal morning, and Laura was, to our eyes, having one of her good days.

If there had been any indication that Laura’s behavior was escalating, we would have taken appropriate measures to ensure her safety and the safety of others.

Even if our family had some indication that she might seek to harm, it is likely that mental health crisis workers would have been unable to provide aid. In our experience, mental health crisis responders are only able to take action if Laura has already hurt someone or was threatening to harm herself or others in the immediate presence of a DMHP (Designated Mental Health Professional).

Laura has a criminal history. In the past year, she has been detained overnight on two separate occasions. Both of these were on assault charges. We were unable to access help from the mental health crisis response system in both of these circumstances and had to rely on law enforcement.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Gig Harbor police force are very familiar with Laura and her issues and have done everything in their power to support her and her family. There is, of course, only so much the police can do given the lack of resources for the severely mentally ill in this state.

There has been no abuse in Laura’s life. Her illness causes delusions that lead her to remember events from her past that never took place. It is human nature to look for an explanation as to why tragedies such as Saturday’s occur. The only abuse in this case has been done to the public by the mental health crisis response system in Washington state.

It is our hope that the public will look at this tragedy, and other recent tragedies, and understand that there is a very flawed system in place here. Involuntary commitment laws such as the 5150 Law in California would be excellent first steps to ensure that Washington’s mentally ill receive the care they deserve.

Once again, please know that we are desperately sorry for the pain of the victims, their families and everyone affected by Saturday morning’s events. We would have done anything in our power to prevent it, given the opportunity.

We are thinking of the victims and their families always, and are praying for their full recovery.

Jennifer and Reno Sorensen live in Gig Harbor.