After losing her mentally ill son in a 10-hour standoff in Encinitas last month, one mother is now fighting for change over the appropriate treatment of those suffering from mental illness in San Diego.
Elementary school nurse Michelle Kwik buried her 22-year-old son, Evan Kwik, last month after she says she was unable to get him proper treatment for severe mental illness.
On Feb. 20, Evan barricaded himself inside his mother’s home on Del Rio Avenue, leading to a long, overnight standoff with law enforcement officers.
During the standoff, Evan shot and wounded two deputies before ultimately turning a gun on himself while hiding in a crawl space in his mother’s attic.
He died from the self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Kwik says she had recently filed a restraining order against her son and had tried everything to get him the mental help he needed.
She had him hospitalized, tried to have him arrested and, in a moment of desperation, even hoped he would be injured in some way so he would be forced to finally face his demons.
In the midst of all this, there is a state law that could have helped – if it were enforced in San Diego County.
“Laura’s Law” is a California law that could treat severely mentally ill patients before they turn violent. Right now in San Diego if a mentally ill person over the age of 18 refuses treatment, there is virtually nothing family members or doctors can do to help.
“Laura's Law” empowers the courts to require treatment for the severely mentally ill. The law passed statewide in 2002, but only one county in California enforces it, and it's not San Diego.
In Kwik’s case, the state law did not help save her son.
Now, Kwik is fighting to implement “Laura’s Law” in San Diego County so no parent or family has to go through what the Kwiks have gone through ever again.
"I was asking the judge for help; I wanted him to see the need that Evan had to be helped,” said Kwik.
Reading from a prepared statement to NBC 7 earlier this week, Kwik begged the county to implement “Laura’s Law.” Although overwhelmed by grief, Kwik still managed to highlight the importance of the state law.
Currently, the county claims “Laura’s Law” is flawed and that enforcing it would be too expensive.
Kwik believes this decision ultimately cost her son’s life.
“I tried to get Evan an appointment with a psychiatrist and they said first you have to go through a step where Evan is interviewed by a counselor. Well, Evan wouldn't even go to school when he was young," she explained.
Even law enforcement couldn’t help. Kwik says her son’s impulsive behavior put law enforcement at risk.
“At times when they would come over he would have knives around him and [pepper] spray, and he said ‘I'll hurt you.’”
During Evan’s standoff with deputies on Feb. 20, Kwik thought her son might actually get arrested or wounded, forcing him to get medical help.
“I heard someone say, ‘Got shot in the knee,’ and I thought, 'Oh my God, thank God, Evan got shot in the knee. Someone now can pick him up and take him to the hospital; he'll get the best care ever in the hospital,’” she said.
However, that help never happened for Evan, and he ultimately took his own life.
Kwik hopes her son’s story sparks action locally.
“My son was a threat to himself and the community,” Kwik said Thursday, “Now, I stand here with a broken heart for my son, and all the sons and daughters who suffer from mental illness, asking that you enact ‘Laura's Law.’”
San Diego County says it offers an alternative to the court-mandated treatment of “Laura’s Law." The county’s treatment is called I-HOT, or In-Home Outreach Team, which is a voluntary program.
Kwik says she attempted to put Evan in the I-HOT program, but because he was over 18, he refused the help.