- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

Local police and mental health officials said yesterday that they had no authority to return to a Rockville psychiatric facility last month an 18-year-old escapee who earlier this week ambushed Fairfax County police officers in Chantilly.

“In the state of Virginia, if someone voluntarily checks themselves into a mental health facility and leaves, they are able to leave, [unless] there is a detention order,” said Officer Beth Underhill, a spokeswoman for Fairfax County police. “If you leave, police cannot pick you up.”

Michael William Kennedy, 18, of Centreville, was voluntarily admitted to Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health Center in Rockville at about 1 p.m. April 18. Center officials said that the door to his room had no lock, but that he was staying in a unit block that was secured.

About seven hours after he had checked in, Kennedy broke a window, left the facility and carjacked a sport utility vehicle. He surrendered to Fairfax County police a few hours later at the Sully District station in Chantilly.

On Monday, Kennedy opened fire outside the Sully station, killing Detective Vicky O. Armel, 40, and critically wounding Officer Michael E. Garbarino, 53. The teen was killed in a gunbattle with police officers in which more than 120 rounds of ammunition were fired.

Kennedy’s friends and neighbors have said he had exhibited bizarre behavior, such as calling himself Jesus Christ and talking about invasions by zombies. Documents seized from Kennedy’s home after the Monday afternoon ambush show that he had received treatment for mental health issues.

Euphia Smith, a spokeswoman for Potomac Ridge, said center staff forcibly detain patients trying to leave only if they fit certain criteria. Most of the time, Miss Smith said, staff will simply talk to patients and try to convince them to stay and receive help.

According to Maryland regulations, criteria for involuntarily committing someone to a mental health facility include “if the patient presents a danger to the life or safety of the individual or of others.”

Kennedy “did not fit those criteria where he would have been in an involuntary situation or in a seclusion situation,” Miss Smith said.

Police in Montgomery and Fairfax counties said they had no knowledge of a detention order on Kennedy that would require them to return him to the mental health facility. He was extradited to Montgomery County on April 21; the next day, he posted a $33,000 property bond set by a court commissioner.

Montgomery County police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said officers first received a report of the Rockville carjacking at about 6:45 p.m., and responded to a missing-person report from Potomac Ridge at about 10 p.m.

Police later connected the events because of matching descriptions of the suspect in each case, and Kennedy was held in Fairfax custody because of the armed carjacking charge.

“The carjacking takes priority because he committed a crime,” Miss Baur said. “He was voluntarily committed to a mental health facility, which means he had the right to leave.”

Detectives searching Kennedy’s home on Monday night confiscated a manila folder containing “mood disorder medical documentation,” dated April 25, from Prince William Hospital in Manassas. They also seized two bills from the Woodburn Center for Community Mental Health in Annandale, where Kennedy reportedly sought treatment after shooting and wounding his family’s dog.

Officials at the Woodburn and Prince William facilities said they could not confirm whether Kennedy had sought treatment there, or what mental disorders he might have had.

Kennedy’s friends and classmates have said that he suffered from hallucinations, depression and possible schizophrenia in the months leading up to the ambush.

Officer Underhill said she was not aware of any further communication between police and Kennedy’s parents, Brian and Margaret Kennedy, who have been in seclusion since Monday.

Contacted by phone in West Virginia, a man who identified himself as a family relative said he has had no contact with the Kennedys since the shooting and has been following developments over the Internet.

The man declined to speak any further, saying he thought any statements should come through the family’s attorney. The family is being represented by the Fairfax law firm MacDowell & Associates, which earlier this week issued a statement of regret on the parents’ behalf.

Officer Underhill also said traces on the weapons Kennedy was carrying and seven additional firearms seized during the search of the family’s home could take a week to complete.

Law-enforcement sources told The Washington Times on Wednesday that traces from some of the weapons Kennedy was carrying at the time of the shootout had been completed and that they were registered to the teen’s father, who is a registered gun owner.

In their search of Kennedy’s home after the shootings, detectives also found literature from the National Rifle Association that was addressed to Michael Kennedy.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said that neither Michael Kennedy nor his father was an NRA member, and that the association sent Michael Kennedy the literature after obtaining his information from another organization’s mailing list.

“I think we sent him one piece of mail,” the spokesman said.

Police also said yesterday that they have received reports of phone solicitations in the name of Detective Armel. They said the only legitimate memorial fund is the Armel Family Trust Fund.

Donations can be sent to Armel Family Trust Fund, C/O Fairfax County Federal Credit Union, 4201 Members Way, Fairfax, VA 22030.

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