September 25, 1996 in Nation/World

Psychiatrist Says Loukaitis Snapped Before Rampage Testimony Supports Defense Contention That Accused Killer Was Psychotic

William Miller Staff writer

A week before the shooting rampage, 15-year-old Barry Loukaitis was walking home from school when the plan suddenly took shape.

“It clicked in my head. I knew I had to kill Manuel.”

That’s what Loukaitis told the psychiatrist days after he had been arrested for shooting up a Moses Lake junior high classroom, leaving two students and a teacher dead.

The gangly honor student has confessed to walking into his 5th-period algebra class on Feb. 2 with his father’s hunting rifle and immediately shooting Manuel Vela, 15.

Why did Loukaitis do it? Psychiatrist Julia Moore of Federal Way, Wash., said Tuesday the boy “snapped” about a week before the attack, driven to a nervous breakdown in part by his parents’ nasty divorce and Vela’s taunts.

According to Loukaitis, Vela had called him a “faggot,” was “bullying other kids” and “acting like a gang member,” Moore said.

So Loukaitis - slipping in and out of reality - armed himself to the teeth, dressed all in black like a cowboy avenger and set out to fight what he thought was evil, Moore said.

“Once I thought it, it happened. I thought it, and it was done,” Loukaitis told Moore during a three-hour interview Feb. 11 at the Grant County Juvenile Detention Center.

Moore’s testimony is critical to the defense, which is trying to show that Loukaitis was in the grip of a reality-warping psychosis during the rampage and isn’t a cold-blooded killer as prosecutors contend.

In a few days, Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper of Kittitas County will decide whether Loukaitis will face three counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault as a juvenile or an adult. The potential difference is huge: less than six years behind bars in a juvenile institution versus mandatory life imprisonment.

Moore painted a chilling portrait of Loukaitis during the initial interview: endlessly pacing a 15-foot-long room like a caged animal; lapsing into “staring spells,” smiling eerily when talking about the shootings.

His “eerie, weird icy-cold emotion… gave me the willies,” Moore said,.

“It was like I was talking to some high-powered electrical machine saw that was just steely. It was just machine-like. It was weird, weird emotion - with a slight smile on his face.”

Loukaitis described himself in the days leading up to the shootings as being controlled by some powerful force. “I was a computer,” he told Moore. “I did not have the program, somebody else did. Somebody else pushed the program.”

Exhibiting quick and severe mood swings that Moore diagnosed as bi-polar disorder, she said he lashed out at gang members, his parents, police, the press and O.J. Simpson, whom he believes is guilty.

“I’m angry all the time,” he said.

Shortly before the bloodshed in room 15, Moore said Loukaitis became obsessed with fighting evil, like “some kind of avenger…”

“He saw so much evil in the world and around him that he needed to kill Manuel.”

The avenger fixation, she said, was illustrated by how he dressed that afternoon - like an old-West gunslinger - all in black from his boots to his cowboy hat. Besides the rifle, police said he carried two loaded handguns and 78 rounds of ammunition.

But Moore said Loukaitis, during the same jail interview, also was sorrowful, expressing remorse for what he had done. “Let them have my body,” he said of the victims’ families.

Besides Vela, classmate Arnold Fritz, 14, and teacher Leona Caires were killed.

Thirteen year-old Natalie Hintz was critically injured.

Moore said Loukaitis’ mental health improved dramatically after she put him on lithium.

She said he poses no threat to the community if he is properly medicated and monitored.

During cross-examination Tuesday afternoon, Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell attacked Moore’s diagnosis.

He said Moore was fired from her previous job as medical director of a King County mental health program because her colleagues dispute the validity of her bi-polar diagnoses.

Moore recently countered with a $5 million claim for damages.

Afterward, Knodell said Moore’s testimony will be disputed by a Seattle psychiatrist who will testify on rebuttal for the prosecution.

“I believe he’s very, very disturbed,” Knodell said of the defendant, “but he’s not psychotic and he’s not bi-polar. He’s a very dangerous guy who acts out on impulses by maiming and killing people.”

Defense attorney Guillermo Romero said mental illness has plagued the maternal side of Loukaitis’ family for at least six generations.

The boy’s mother, JoAnn, has received psychiatric treatments and his grandmother is one of many in the family to have attempted suicide.

Prosecutors will continue their cross-examination of Moore this morning. Romero then intends to call a psychologist. Also on the defense witness list: Loukaitis’ parents.

, DataTimes

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