Exclusive Interview With Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds
Aired January 27, 2014 – 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Tonight my interview with the state senator Creigh Deeds of Virginia whose son stabbed him multiple times and how he says the tragedy could have been avoided.
Also tonight, from here in Washington, what more can you say? With three years left in the second term, will tomorrow’s state of the union address be President Obama’s last chance to shape his agenda? We will look ahead to the big event.
And later, what is it like aboard the latest nightmare cruise ship where only the germs appear to be going first class.
This afternoon, I was about two hours south of here in Richmond, Virginia speaking with the father whose face and body bear the marks of a nearly fatal attack that occurred just two months ago in November. The pain for this father is still raw.
Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds was slashed and stabbed and almost killed by his mentally ill son Gus who then took his own life. He talked about it a little last night on “60 minutes.” But tonight we go in depth in a way he’s never spoken about it before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE SEN. CREIGH DEEDS, VIRGINIA: People have been so kind to me, they reach out and they don’t understand sometimes that I just have to be left alone, because I have to focus on the good things. You know, these pictures and the facebook page set up for Gus. There are so many good pictures. There were good memories and that’s what I have to focus on. You know, I’m determined that Gus not be remembered just for his illness. He was such a good boy, a good man, he had a good heart, he loved people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Gus was Senator Deeds only son. He was loved deeply by a father who did everything he could to try to get him the help that he so desperately needed. But this man, a senator no less could not get that help. The system, he says, failed his son and he’s speaking out tonight because he wants you to know about the boy he loved, about the young man with a bright future, a future taken away by mental illness. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
COOPER (voice-over): Early on the morning, November 19th, police received a 911 call of news of a violent attack in Bath County, Virginia. The victim, Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds. Deeds was stabbed repeatedly around his head and torso with multiple slashes across his face.
The attack happened on Deeds’ property just outside his home. The assault alone was shocking enough, but the identity of the attacker was beyond comprehension. It was Deeds’ son Gus who turned a gun on himself after the attack.
CORNINE GELLER, VIRGINIA STATE POLICE SPOKESWOMAN: Senator Deeds’ son, Gus Deeds, age 24 also of mill borrow was found inside the residence suffering from life threatening injuries associated with a gunshot wound. Despite efforts by troopers and first responders at the residence, he died at the scene.
COOPER: Senator Deeds was found by a cousin on the highway in front of his home, critically injured, deep in shock, and unaware that his son was dead.
Deeds is a well known democratic politician in Virginia. In 2009, he launched a campaign for governor with his son Gus on the campaign trail with them. The two were close, Gus the only boy in the family. They lived a seemingly normal happy life, but at some point in his early 20s, Gus began to change. His parents feared he was bipolar, maybe even schizophrenic.
A month before the attack, Gus dropped out of college. In November 18th of last year, Creigh Deeds took his son to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. A magistrate had issued an emergency custody order, which meant they found Gus to be homicidal, suicidal or unable to care for himself.
But the hospital had no psychiatric beds available for Gus and released him. Under Virginia state law six hours is the maximum time a person can be held in emergency custody without a bed. The next morning, Gus attacked his father.
Since the attack three area hospitals confirmed they had beds available but said no one called them to check. Creigh Deeds still lives at the same house where the attack happened just over two months ago. He has mostly recovered from his injuries, though he is visibly scared. And he’s returned to his seat in the state Senate with a new purpose, mental health reform in Virginia, to help fix the system he says failed him and failed his son.
COOPER: That’s the motivation for the state senator. As we saw at Sandy Hook, the need for reform extends far beyond Virginia, there’s still so much stigma surrounding mental illness in this country, speak about — people speak about it in hush tones if they speak about it at all. Tonight, we want you to hear Creigh Deeds. We want you to hear about the son that he loved, the son he lost and the pain too many families in this country face all alone.
COOPER: What do you want people to know about Gus?
DEEDS: With Gus, Gus was a sensitive kid. He was sometimes overly sensitive, you know, and very — he was the kind of kid that sometimes kept count of rights and wrongs and who got what. You know, he was very conscious of that growing up. But he blossomed as a teenager. And then when he was 20, after the campaign didn’t work out, Gus was kind of just astray. He decided I’ll sit out another semester of school. His mother called me one morning, she said, you know, I woke up this morning. I have nothing but a note on the table from Gus that said, I’m taking a ride. And a couple of days later, she got a got a text of a road sign, well, he had taken across country trip. He came back, he said that — he came back a little bit changed. He significantly changed. But he came back with a renewed commitment of faith. I mean, it wouldn’t be too much to say that he was probably over the top with it in many respects.
COOPER: Was that the first indication to you that there was something wrong?
DEEDS: Well, you know, I don’t know that I knew anything was wrong. It’s easy to react to something like that and say, something’s wrong with him, but my children have been raised in church. They have been raised in faith. He came back with a renewed religious interest and I thought it was a little bit strange considering, you know, past conversations with Gus that he was that almost that fanatical.
You know, he was distant. He started making knives out of scrap metal. I think his mother had him — in October of 2010, late September had him in a halfway house in Charlottesville, run by a community service group, and he was there for a week or two. And he came back and he basically, we got him a job at the homestead washing dishes. This kid with unlimited intellectual capacity, was really just kind of doing menial work.
COOPER: He was adrift?
DEEDS: He was adrift. He came to live with me twice in the summer of 2011, you know. He said things that made me — and he said he — he admitted that he was considering killing himself. And so I didn’t take that lightly.
COOPER: For a parent that’s a horrific thing –
DEEDS: That was devastating and you can just imagine. You know, Gus was just kind of — he had unlimited ability and it was just every day for the last few years, it’s been very tough.
COOPER: It’s also — I mean, it’s terrifying for a parent to suddenly start to see things in their child at that age especially in a child who’s so accomplished and has had –
DEEDS: Well, and the thing is, once they’re 18, you lose a lot of control –
COOPER: So, you didn’t even really know anything he had been diagnosed with because of privacy laws?
DEEDS: I never had access to any of that. After he came to live with me, when he admitted suicidal thoughts twice, I went to magistrate twice I had him committed, so I was the bad guy, but I kept him alive.
COOPER: Did you suspect he was perhaps schizophrenic?
DEEDS: You know, the reading I’ve done, I’m convinced he was schizophrenic. I’m not a professional in the health care field, I don’t know. But it certainly, what I’ve read about schizophrenia, I think he was.
COOPER: Certainly the age that people start to exhibit signs of schizophrenia?
DEEDS: Yes, absolutely. He went back to school in the fall of 2012, and he was Dean’s list again, fall of 2012, spring of 2013. When he came home, I was a little worried that perhaps he wasn’t taking his medicine. I confronted him about it, he said –
COOPER: His thoughts were kind of racing, he was –
DEEDS: Well, he’s just a little more — he was a little more distant, a little less open, and then in early October he started posting things on Facebook about the teachers or the professors , you know, combining forces against him or consolidating, you know, they were –
COOPER: Plotting against him.
DEEDS: Plotting against him. Yes, yes. And I just sent him a message on Facebook, I said, Gus, what’s going on? Is there anything I can do to help? And he said, this will pass, don’t worry. The next day he called me and wanted to come home.
COOPER: My brother did the exact same thing. One day, all of the sudden, he called my mom and said, I want to come home, he came home and when I heard that, I was terrified.
DEEDS: Now, I got on the phone with the friend of mine who is a psychologist and ring — I told Gus, I said, buddy, you and I need to work on our communication skills. We need to develop — work on our relationship, and we need sit down with this lady.
COOPER: So, you were hoping by involving yourself in it that would get him to at least be able to talk to a psychiatrist?
DEEDS: Absolutely. And we went and talked, spent an hour with her. And later on, that was like a Saturday morning. Later on she called me and said, you know, Gus is delusional. I’m really worried, you know. And on the first of November, I went to Ireland. While I was in Ireland for two weeks, he never responded to an e-mail. He never picked up the phone when I called him. Gus’ whole attitude, his delusions had taken over, and his whole attitude had changed toward anything.
COOPER: Would he express the delusions?
DEEDS: Well, he was just, you know, delusions of grandeur almost that he was a demagogue almost. I was a slave.
COOPER: So, there was a religious cast to his –?
COOPER: People have delusions in different ways, his had a religious –
DEEDS: It did. So, I looked in his book, and I saw things in there that concerned me that made him — he understand that he was looking around for that maybe to be concerned about guns and I –
COOPER: A journal he had been keeping?
DEEDS: Yes, about the journal. And so, the next morning — Monday, the 18th, when I got to work, I called — after they were open, I called the CSB, and I talked to a fellow there who said — I explained to him the problem. He said, you need to get to a magistrate and see if you can get an ECO issued. And I said what my frustration with that?
COOPER: ECO is?
DEEDS: Emergency Custody Order. My concern about that is that he’s only held for 48 or 72 hours, and then he comes home and I have the same problem again. And this guy said don’t worry, we’ll try to work with you to get a long term placement at western state. I mean, that cuts you to the core when you hear your son, your pride and joy, might be hospitalized long term, but at least he would be alive. At least where there’s life, there’s hope. And I went to the magistrate, I got the CS — I got the thing issued, ECO. I went to the house, and I sat with Gus. He was sitting in the living room playing the banjo. And I sat with Gus while he was playing the banjo. He was surprised, deputy sheriffs came about 20 minutes after I got there. They picked Gus up.
COOPER: Was he angry about that?
DEEDS: He was surprised and he was frustrated. As the day wore on, you know, I knew he was upset. The CSB worker was to, you know, he didn’t think Gus was suicidal, you know. He’s trained in those things, I’m not. His plan, he said they have space for Gus at this Crossroads, halfway house, crisis intervention in Charlottesville, but they were a little concerned about his behavior. He needed to be a little more stable. And they thought he would perhaps be more stable in the morning. So, the plan was to take Gus to the CSB in the morning and get him over to Charlottesville to the Halfway House.
COOPER: And he was very agitated? DEEDS: He didn’t sit down all afternoon. He would pace the floor, he would stop and hold his chin in his hand and look at me and smile. Just this little closed up smile, and then he would pace some more, and pace a little while and look at me again. As the time slipped away, I knew there would be a confrontation. I had no idea it would be violent. I had no reason — I mean, Gus and I had no reason to think there would be violence.
COOPER: CSB where he took his son is a community services board. When we come back, he talks about the attack that nearly killed him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEEDS: When I turned around, I could see that he had something in his hand that was coming at me, but I didn’t really, you know, I had no idea what was coming. It was in his left hand. I couldn’t tell, you know, I thought it was a screw driver, I had no idea what it was. And he just kept coming at me with stuff. And I said, what’s going on. I said, Gus, I love you so much. Don’t make this worse than it is. He just kept stabbing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Before the break we were talking to Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds about the son he loved and when things started getting bad for him. He spoke with the help that he tried to get him for his son, Gus. Now in part two of our conversation, he describes what happened next.
COOPER: So, when you came home with you that night –
DEEDS: That night, I stopped. I needed gas to get home. I stopped for gas. And I said, I’m going to get something to drink, a bottle of pop and a candy bar. Can I get you anything? And he just said, he liked coke and he liked — he wanted a snickers bar. And then, down the road I thought about, well, we don’t really have anything to eat at the house, why don’t I stop and get a sandwich. He said, well, (INAUDIBLE) sandwich. I thought if I could get him in the restaurant that would, at least, diffuse the situation a little bit. And we will have some time to talk. But he didn’t want to come in the restaurant.
I got a sandwich and he ate it, a lot of it on the way home. When we got home, I sat at one end of the ding room table, he sat at the other end. I ate my sandwich. He was writing furiously in his journal. After I ate my sandwich, I said night Gus, night bud. He said good night. And he was still writing away. And the next morning, Gus, you know, Gus was stronger than me. You know, he’s better looking, he is stronger, he is smarter. He’s everything you would want in a son. And if Gus were arrested, if Gus were arrested and had his heart 100 percent into something, you know, I would have been toast. COOPER: He could have killed you?
DEEDS: He could have killed me. He could have killed me, yes. No question in that.
COOPER: And that’s what he grew.
DEEDS: And he had that gun and he had, you know, he could have shot me across the yard if he wanted to.
So, the next morning, you know, I got up. As I said, I was a little nervous because I knew that the job of taking him to Lexington is going to tough. And I knew there would be some confrontation. I didn’t think there would being violence. I knew there would be discussion.
I got ready when everyone got ready. I went out to the barn to take care of feeding (INAUDIBLE). And I was feeding them. I had some of them in the barn. I had another big feed tray in my hand for this thoroughbred that belongs to my oldest girl. He was coming across the yard. I said, hey, bud, how did you sleep? I didn’t waive my hand because I had feed in my hands. And he said fine. I turned my back and I took it twice in the back.
COOPER: He stabbed you twice in the back?
COOPER: Did you know what was happening?
DEEDS: No, I had no idea. I had no idea. I mean, when I turned around I could see that he had something in his hand that was coming at me. But I didn’t really — I had no idea what was coming. It was in his left hand. Nothing coming — I couldn’t tell — you know, I thought it was a screw driver. I had no idea what it was. And he just kept coming at me with stuff. And I said, what’s going on. I told him — I said, Gus, I love you so much. Don’t make this any worse than it is. He just kept stabbing. And I think he either knew that I was disabled enough that I couldn’t interfere with whatever else he wanted to do, he decided at some point, maybe after I said that I loved him, he decided that I didn’t need to die after all or he thought from the amount of blood that he had already done some damage. The first blow to my back was pretty, you know, pretty close to a spot where he could have drawn a lot of blood. And the second one punctured a long, you know. It’s possible that — I don’t — there was a good bit of blood. But, you know, I like to think that Gus at some point in that attack, the old Gus came back. I like to think that, I want to believe that.
COOPER: Because he certainly wasn’t himself when he started?
DEEDS: No, no, he wasn’t himself about.
COOPER: That’s not your son?
DEEDS: No. I mean, whatever took my son, the bipolar disorder, the schizophrenia, whatever metal illness there was, it took my son and worsened in the last few months because he was on medication and he wasn’t keeping appointments. And there was very little I could do to turn that around. And I had done everything I could. The day before, I had taken him to the — it’s not like, you know, he is my son, so I could automatically enroll him in the hospital somewhere. He’s an adult. Everything I had done the day before, you know, we tried and had been rejected. My son was allowed to suffer.
COOPER: And he was suffering for a long time?
DEEDS: He was suffering for a long, long time. I mean, that’s — at least he’s at peace now, but it’s the price to pay.
COOPER: So, you know, I think I always feel like, if somebody has cancer, they’re suffering from cancer, somebody’s suffering from leukemia.
DEEDS: That’s it.
COOPER: People –
DEEDS: There’s a real disparity in this country between mental illness and what we consider physical illness. And physical illness we treat. Mental illness we hide behind. We sweep it under the rug.
COOPER: There’s still such a stigma about it. People don’t talk about it.
DEEDS: They don’t talk about it. They’re embarrassed about it. People that are mentally ill don’t, you know, they don’t want to be considered, they don’t want to be considered ill people. They have mental illness in their family, often times, want to look the other way and pretend it will go away. A lot of people in my own situation would say, well Gus will grow out of it. It will work out just fine. Gus will be all right because he had so much ability. But you know, the problem is, there’s — you know, he wouldn’t — he need treatment, he needed medication many.
COOPER: It’s also in this society, it’s seen as like a defect as opposed to something that has taken your son. I mean, it’s not — people don’t view cancer as, that person is guilty or they’ve done something wrong or they’re weak, whereas mental illness there is that belief.
DEEDS: There is, and that — that’s just — it’s too bad. Gus had –
COOPER: Because to me, the strength of somebody who’s fighting mental illness, I mean, the strength of Gus to just get through a day is extraordinary.
DEEDS: And he had such a talent, and such love inside that this illness was nothing voluntary. It’s not like he did something to deserve this sort of condition. And as society, we need to genuinely look at the way we treat the mental illness as — because it’s one of the great problems of our age in equity, between the way we treat the physical illnesses and the way we treat mental illnesses. I’ve read somewhere that mental illness is another physical illness. It’s just another chemical imbalance in the brain. That’s another way to look at it, that mental illness is a physical illness.
COOPER: After the attack, did you — how did you hear about what finally happened to Gus?
DEEDS: Well, see Gus was in just slash it away. I mean, — and you know, then suddenly you just turn around, and I think he thought I was bleeding enough, I don’t know. And so, I staggered through the barn along a ridge, kind of — I just — I didn’t have much — I didn’t have much strength in my right side, but my arm was pretty much disabled. So, I didn’t open the gate. I climbed it. And I staggered out to this road. My cousin was, you know, taken some hunters back to the national forest, and he saw me coming through the field bloody, and he got his hunters out of the truck, put me in, took me back up to his house, his wife is a nurse at the University of Virginia hospital. They got a rescue squad and helicopter and with instructions for me to go to the hospital.
Either in the rescue squad or the helicopter, I heard a scanner report that there was a second victim with a gunshot wound to the head. At that point, I was worried about Gus. You know, when I got — my cousin took me up to his house, there was a trooper up there, and I said, he was going down to the house. Because I told him I thought that’s where Gus had gone back to. And I said, please don’t hurt him. Because I had no — honestly, I didn’t know even at that time that Gus was trying to kill me. I just couldn’t — you know, I didn’t want him to think that. And I certainly didn’t think he was going to hurt himself.
I said, please don’t hurt him. And when I heard that on the scanner, you know, I worried — I was worried about Gus, but I knew there weren’t any bullets in the house, so there was no ammunition for that 22 rifle in the house that I was aware of. And so, I didn’t think it was possible for it to be Gus. So when I woke up, after surgery and stuff the next day or something, you know, because (INAUDIBLE) some time I woke up and I got that thing out of my mouth, I asked, I said, Gus, because I couldn’t — I didn’t have any voice, and Shaman (ph) told me then what happened.
COOPER: One of the things that I think is so horrible about suicide is that, at least for me, I often get stuck thinking about how, in my case, my brother ended his life as opposed to how he lived his life. And I’m wondering if you — do you think about that?
DEEDS: Yes, I do. And, you know, people have been so kind to me, and they reach out, and they don’t understand sometimes that I just to be left alone, because I need to focus on the good things, you know. But these pictures and the facebook page that was set up for Gus, there are so many good pictures. There are so many good memories and that’s what I want to focus on.
You know, I’m determined that Gus not be remembered just for his illness or in this life, I mean, it’s nothing. He was such a good boy. A good man, he had a good heart, he love d people. I ran for statewide office twice, and neither time I won. But Gus was kind of a constant on both those campaigns. He nicknamed all the kids that worked for me. He loved those kids, they loved him. He would entertain them with the banjo or the harmonica. And you know, he would name all the cats. We have a barn. So, there’s lots of cats that come in there and, you know, I’ve been known to not turning them away, and Gus loved cats. And loved — and dogs and — we had just about every kind of animal. And Gus, he always named the animals. He nicknamed the people. He was so full of love. And I just — I’m determined that he not be remembered by the end of his life. But he be remembered by all the goodness. I mean, he was just this unbelievable guy. He could sing. He could dance. He could shake his booty like nobody else. And he would entertain people with just his dancing as a young man. And, you know, when he was in high school, he got the spirit award, for a couple times, and he got a senior award.
COOPER: He was valedictorian of his high school class?
DEEDS: He was valedictorian of his high school. Gus was something special. All my children are.
COOPER: For me, it was a long time that I was able to talk about my brother. The fact that you’re able to talk about him is so nice.
DEEDS: You have no choice, life goes on, you know. Now, there’s a little bit of focus on mental illness. And if we can make a difference, if we can make a change that’s going to save lives, we have to do it. You know, we have to — I have no choice. And besides that, you know, I’ve got to work. I’ve got to keep going, you know, life is short.
COOPER: The only way to break the stigma of mental illness in this country is to break the silence that too often surrounds it. As painful as it is for Senator Creigh Deeds to talk about what happened to his son, we want to thank him and we hope that it affects needed change that others are facing the horror of mental illness, get the help they so desperately need.
Among the things the state senator is trying for the Commonwealth of Virginia is to extend the period of time that a family could keep somebody under observation. Right now it’s 4 to 6 hours. He would like to extend it to 24 hours. Most importantly, what he’s trying to do is get a database, so if someone is taken to a hospital and is in need of hospitalization, health workers can look online and find out what beds are available.
Right now it’s an antiquated system, the health workers actually have to call around to different facilities. As the state senator says it’s like something out of the 1950s, if it’s all in an online database, and they could see instantly where there was a bed available. The state senator there wasn’t available for his son. We’ve later learned, it seems, that there were at least three beds available in the commonwealth of Virginia that day. We’ll be right back.
end of transcript