MESA, Arizona — Kayden Clarke, 24, whose struggles with Asperger’s syndrome went viral last year after he posted a video of his service dog comforting him, was shot dead by police in his Mesa home on Thursday.
Two officers responded to a report of a suicidal person, according to Mesa Detective Esteban Flores. The two officers, who are now on administrative leave, were carrying stun guns, but fired their weapons after Clarke allegedly lunged at them with a 12-inch kitchen knife in his home.The police were called after Heather Allen, president of animal rescue group HALO, received suicidal emails from Clarke.
Clarke was a part of the service dog community, and according to some in that community, Clarke had repeatedly “threatened, stalked, harassed and bullied” his peers. This weekend, some community members spoke publicly about fearing for their safety or contemplating suicide due to Clarke’s threats.
Justine Panzeca, one of the service dog handlers who’d helped Clarke, told The Daily Beast on Saturday that Clarke stalked her and threatened her.
“I was so scared of [him] at one point, I contemplated my own suicide,” Panzeca said. “I don’t wish anyone death, but I find so much relief knowing I don’t have to walk around my own campus scared for my life.”
Below is a Facebook audio message Panzeca alleges Clarke had sent to her, in which the caller tells Panzeca to kill herself. He also uses racist slurs to address Panzeca and goes on a rant about Mexican-Americans.
Clarke was transitioning from female to male. According to a YouTube video Clarke made just three weeks ago, he was distressed about his gender therapist refusing to start him on hormones. Clarke’s therapist, according to the video, told Clarke that he could not start hormonal treatment until he “fixed” or “cured [his] Asperger’s disease.”
In that video, Clarke said, in addition to Asperger’s, he suffered from PTSD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and a cognitive disorder. Clarke also said in that video that he’s attempted suicide before, in addition to “trying suicide by cop.”
“All this depression from first fucking grade has stemmed from not being able to transition myself,” Clarke stated.
Clarke said he had attempted “suicide by cop” with a gun in this a 2013 YouTube video.
Clarke’s death received national media coverage last week from outlets like The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, CNN, and others, as he had previously received viral fame for a video that featured his dog comforting him in a time of crisis. Facebook groups and events like Justice for Kayden Clarke and March for Kayden Clarke were created in response to his killing last weekend.
Renee Roszkowski, a service dog handler, declined to be interviewed, but she publicly posted the following message on her Facebook page Friday.
“[Kayden Clarke] is dead. For those who don’t know, this person stalked and threatened… multiple service dog handlers to the point of them needing to take out restraining orders against her. [He] stalked, harassed, and bullied many in the online service dog community and was banned and blocked from quite a few online service dog groups… I know we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead. I don’t speak ill, I speak the truth. [He] was not a nice person and was quite possibly very dangerous. … I feel sorry for the officers in this case…“
Posts online warning service dog handlers to be wary of Clarke go back years. One post from July 2015, which was shared on service dog community Facebook pages, warns of Clarke being “extremely dangerous” and “abusive.”
“[He] has made many threats to lives including my own and a close friend of mine,” the post reads. The post urged service dog community members to block Clarke. Others say Clarke was bullied by the community.
Emma Bradford became friends with Clarke after sticking up for him for one of Clarke’s videos.
“[Clarke] admitted to me saying some hurtful things on Facebook,” Bradford told The Daily Beast on Saturday. “[Clarke] had said some hurtful things to people as they had done to [him]. Did [he] need help? Yes [he] did. [He] was being cyber bullied by people… I think with correct guidance and support from mental health teams, other professionals, and more importantly [his] family, all of this could have been avoided. Because, looking back, the signs were screaming out for ages [he] wanted to die.”
Bradford said Clarke was distressed over the bullying from the service dog community.
About five months ago, Clarke took a four-day course with Cheri Wulff Lucas, a dog behaviorist who runs workshops in California. The two also spoke at length before meeting up regarding Clarke’s service dog Samson and Clarke’s mental health.
“[He] was very, very sweet to me. I know [he] has had issues, and ups and downs with other people, but [he] expressed a lot of gratitude and willingness to learn,” said Lucas on Saturday. “[Clarke] was totally cooperative and enthusiastic about everything.”
She also said that it was obvious that Clarke was “sad.”
“But I always felt that [he] really wanted to live. [Clarke] came out to California, made a long trip and [he] really wanted to help [his] dog and [he] wanted to improve [his] own life. [He] was on a mission to do that and was struggling with that,” she said.
Bradford hopes, in light of the shooting, that people re-evaluate mental health practices and procedures to deal with those at risk of self-harm.
“If anything good is to come from [his] death, I think it should be better ways to support (and) help people with disabilities,” she said. “Not just by law enforcement, but by professionals.”