HIGHLANDS RANCH - A man suffering with severe mental illness stockpiled homemade weapons as he threatened to kill people, 9Wants to Know has learned.
A search warrant obtained by 9Wants to Know shows investigators found boxes of ammunition, hand guns, sniper suits, gun building parts, tactical clothing, rifles and a "welded AK-47 long gun" in Richard Lancaster's room.
Lancaster may have ordered some of the ammunition and gun parts from websites while living in his mother's basement, according to the records.
The court documents charging Lancaster, 26, paint a story of a mother who struggled to get her son long-term treatment before she became a victim herself and eventually turned to police for help.
"This is one of those cases where you see all the risk signs, and it becomes obvious if somebody doesn't do something, something terrible is going to happen," said Dr. Max Wachtel, a Denver criminal forensic psychologist.
Dr. Wachtel, who evaluates people who suffer with mental illness, reviewed the court documents for analysis on 9NEWS.
"This was a time-bomb waiting to go off," he said.
Dr. Wacthel said the Lancaster case is an extremely rare incident where someone diagnosed with schizophrenia turns violent.
Lancaster is facing three felony charges, including menacing and two counts of attempting to possess a dangerous weapon. The charging documents refer to a "machine gun."
Court records accuse Lancaster of making a homemade spear and pointing it at his mother's chest. Lancaster also threatened to "kill people if they tried to take him to the mental hospital again," according to statements made by Lancaster's twin brother.
"This is the kind of case you end up reading about in the national news," Dr. Wachtel said. "He could have killed his mom or brother, and he could have had the delusion other people were out to get him. He could have driven to a mall or school."
Mother's Struggle to Get Help
The search warrant and probable cause statement document the mother's repeated struggle to get Lancaster long-term mental health care at various mental health facilities in Colorado. But because he is an adult, Lancaster's mother was powerless to keep him in treatment and could not get access to his medical records, the documents indicate.
"He was admitted to several other hospitals," the documents say. "But each time he was released. He would fall into a behavioral pattern of non-compliance."
The records show Lancaster also spent time at the state's hospital in Pueblo.
"This guy doesn't sound like a criminal. He sounds like he's a person really struggling with mental illness," Wachtel said.
"Over the last few years, Richard has been ordering packages over the internet but [his mother] was not allowed to see what was in them," the documents say. Lancaster didn't allow his mother to enter the basement, according to the records, and often made threats against her while calling her derogatory names.
After repeated efforts to get her son long-term treatment, the documents indicate Lancaster's mother turned to detectives with the Douglas County Sheriff's Department for help.
He was arrested in August and is currently in the Douglas County Detention Center under a $500,000 bond.
"Many times that's the only way to get the attention someone needs is to run them through the police," said Scott Glaser, the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Colorado. "The system is sometimes full. The system doesn't have room. Sometimes they will try to treat them but release them before they received adequate or effective care."
Glaser wanted to stress with 9NEWS that such cases like Lancaster's are extraordinarily rare.
Mental Illness and Weapons
It is unknown if Lancaster was able to legally buy guns or if any past psychiatric holds would have prevented him from buying a firearm.
Dr. Wacthel said there have been cases where psychiatric history is not passed on to the FBI for gun background checks.
According to Lancaster's twin brother's statements to detectives, Lancaster "has tried to acquire weapons through both legal and illegal means" and that he has "bought decommissioned firearms from online retailers and also ammunition."
A background check of his court record and criminal history in Colorado does not reveal any prior felony convictions that would have prevented Lancaster from legally owning a gun.
Lancaster's mother declined an interview with 9Wants to Know while saying she doesn't want to hurt her son's case so he can get the best treatment possible.
Another Mother's Story
While Lancaster's mother declined to comment for this story, another mother who is facing a similar situation agreed to talk with 9Wants to Know about the trials with her son.
"You know I hear these stories of these shootings, these mass attacks; it's unreal
that I would relate with the parent of a shooter," Paula Petty said.
Petty is the mother of a 19-year-old son who is suffering with several mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder. She said he gets angry and violent and will sometimes self-medicate with marijuana because of a lack of treatment and care.
In December, she called police on her son believing he was high on a stimulant. He was taken to the hospital where it was later determined he was suffering with a mental breakdown and didn't have any other drugs in his system, according to Petty.
The hospital released him, according to Petty, without notifying her.
"They took him to the hospital and kicked him right out the next morning. He had no clothes, no shoes, nothing," she said.
The hospital, because of patient privacy laws, wouldn't disclose her son's treatment and why he was released.
Petty said it's difficult to get care and treatment for her son because he is an adult. Applying for Medicaid and disability has been difficult and getting coverage has been a challenge, she said.
"But now that he's an adult, and if he refuses to do something, there's a not a lot I can do about it," Petty said.
Help for Those Suffering
Among various mental health professionals that have sat down with 9Wants to Know, a common agreement is an over-burdened mental health system that doesn't have enough psychiatric beds.
Governor John Hickenlooper is proposing this legislative session to boost resources to the mental health system and to change how people are treated after they are released from psychiatric holds.
You can read Governor Hickenlooper's proposals here, that include funding for five, 24/7 walk-in crisis centers for urgent mental health care needs and a redefinition of the civil commitment law.
There are many groups and non-profits who are aiming to help families dealing with mental health issues.
Here are just a few of the groups that may help if you are looking for services:
- National Alliance on Mental Health Colorado
- Empower Colorado
- Mental Health America Colorado
- Mental Health Center of Denver
- The Colorado's Office of Behavioral Health
If you would like to talk to a licensed therapist, you can also call the Metro Crisis Hotline at 1-888-885-1222. Calls are free 24/7 and are confidential.
Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jeremy Jojola? Call him at 303-871-1425 or e-mail him