NEWS | CRIMINAL JUSTICE “TRAGIC EXPECTATIONS,” CONTINUED...
riginally from Illinois, Ethan, Murray and her daughter, Cora, moved to Sandpoint from Wisconsin roughly 15 years ago. The idea was to be near the mountains and for the kids to go to a local Waldorf school. But within a couple years, Ethan started showing some challenges and getting into trouble. His teachers said he was smart but socially awkward. He started smoking marijuana at 12 and eventually spent a stint in juvenile detention over a misdemeanor drug possession charge. Murray says she tried everything from the “tough love” of reporting him to law enforcement to seeking out counselors. At the time, neither she nor anyone else suspected that deeper mental health issues may have been contributing to his behavior. “It just seemed like basic troubles of a teenager. And even counselors told me that: ‘Oh, it’s just a phase, oh it’s just marijuana. He’ll grow out of it.’” But Ethan’s issues continued to escalate. At 17 he dropped out of high school and was in and out of the family home for days at a time. He did obtain his GED and pursued work in the culinary field through a program in Moses Lake. However, he couldn’t hold down jobs. Then came the meth use and a psychotic break: In 2015, he ended up at Murray’s house and lit a fire under his old bed. Murray eventually got him down to a hospital in Coeur d’Alene — Bonner County lacks sufficient psychiatric resources, she says — where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and meth-induced psychosis. She hoped that he could eventually be committed long-term to the regional state psychiatric hospital in Orofino. So Ethan stayed at the hospital, was given medication and waited for a bed to open up. But once he was admitted to the state hospital, Murray says he was released after only six days and that the “cycle started all over again.” From there, LETTERS Ethan spent roughly Send comments to two years homeless firstname.lastname@example.org. in numerous states, getting routinely picked up by law enforcement or first responders for abnormal behavior, such as walking down Highway 101 in California or along a train track in Montana. “There might have been a couple times he would end up at home. But he’d be really delusional or very high and would reach out and get help and then finally get frustrated and just leave,” Murray says. (She adds that on the occasion that Ethan wound end up back in town, she’d phone local police to inform them of his mental
Sheriff’s deputies chased Ethan Murray to a nearby homeless camp where he was shot. illness and urge them not to shoot him when they ran into him.) Murray says that during this period she was constantly worried that Ethan might get seriously hurt or die: “I always expected the call. He is gravely disabled and the things he does are not what a normal person would do.” During this period, she began keeping a record of Ethan’s movement through journaling and posting about his whereabouts online to keep friends and family in the loop. She also started attending the meetings of a local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Hearing other people tell their stories of how mental illness impacted them not only helped her manage the stress of Ethan’s situation, but also opened her eyes to how widespread the issue is, Murray says.
than ended up in Florida, where he was arrested in June 2017 for stealing a motorized shopping cart from a grocery store. He eventually got admitted to a state psychiatric hospital there, where he remained for a year and a half so that he could be restored to com-
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petency. It seemed that he would get the sustained care and treatment that had so far eluded him. Meanwhile, Murray continued her dive into mental health advocacy. Through her business she organized a bike raffle and a farm-to-table dinner to raise money for NAMI and a local crisis line, and landed on eventual goals of fundraising for better mental health resources in Bonner County. She also helped bring Kissed By God — a film on the now-deceased famous surfer Andy Irons’ struggle with bipolar disorder and opioid addiction — to a local movie theater. And she began developing the idea of making a documentary about Ethan’s struggle with mental illness and addiction. “You get this sense of hopelessness when you can’t help your loved one,” she says. “I guess what I did have control over was just helping break stigma, talking about it.” After Ethan was discharged from the psychiatric hospital to jail, he was quickly released. Murray and her family scrambled to get him on a plane to Sandpoint in an effort to capitalize on his newly stabilized state.
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