Capitol Tragedy

In Months Before Wild Capitol Scene, Miriam Carey Battled Psychosis

Before Thursday’s wild chase in Washington, Miriam Carey had a string of psychotic breaks. By Michael Daly.

When authorities in the Connecticut town of Stamford searched Miriam Carey’s apartment on Thursday night, they found prescriptions for the antipsychotic medication Risperidone and the antianxiety drug Escitalopram.

The pills apparently had been prescribed in December, following a bout of psychotic delusions in which Carey declared herself “The Prophet of Stamford” and imagined that President Obama had put the town in lockdown. She further believed that the president had placed her home under electronic surveillance so as to broadcast her life on national television.

Her ravings back then had caused her boyfriend, 54-year-old Eric Francis, to call the Stamford police. Francis was reportedly worried that Carey might injure their baby daughter, Erica. Carey warned the responding officers that if they tried to subdue her and take her to the hospital, they would be doing so on TV before the whole country. She was still a mom and she resisted strenuously when the officers sought to take the baby into their temporary care. She was placed in handcuffs, but she was able slip one of her hands free. She was re-cuffed after a struggle and taken to a hospital.

On Tuesday, Carey really had appeared on national television, after she drove her black Infiniti into a barricade outside Obama’s present home. She had little Erica, now 18 months old, in the car with her and this time there was absolutely no question that the child was in danger.

Carey then led police on a wild chase that seemed to end when her Infiniti was penned in by several radio cars and surrounded by cops with drawn guns. But she surprised these cops just as she had the officers back in December, when she managed to wiggle free of a handcuff.

The Infiniti suddenly backed up into the radio cars then caromed forward into a turn. She escaped the seeming trap just like a wrist slipping from a cuff.

Had Carey been up in Stamford, or in her native New York where her older sister had served with the NYPD, the police would not likely have fired after a moving vehicle. The difference was that Carey had started outside the White House and was now at the Capitol grounds in an age of terrorism where a speeding vehicle can be a car bomb.

The woman who 11 months before had psychotic delusions of a lockdown and appearing on national TV would now be watched by the whole world. The sound of the gunshots triggered an actual lockdown.

Back when it had all been just a delusion, the Stamford cops had no difficulty recognizing her as a mentally disturbed person in urgent need of psychiatric help medical. The Secret Service officers and Capitol Police in Washington had no way of judging what sort of threat she might constitute even as the 12-block chase ended with her crashing her car and attempting to flee on foot. The cops fired again and she was killed. The only consolation was that the child was unhurt.

On Friday, Carey’s family in Brooklyn prepared to head to Washington to claim her body and take custody of little Erica. The family had said Thursday that Carey had suffered from postpartum depression after Erica’s birth and suggested the disorder had triggered the delusional episode in December. Logic seems to dictate that a severe case of what is often too lightly referred to as “baby blues” had also caused the tragedy in Washington. There was talk of a rare illness called postpartum psychosis.

But without in any way discounting the seriousness of postpartum depression, a prominent forensic psychiatrist who is familiar with the details of Carey’s case suggests that she was very likely simmering with a bipolar disorder long before Erica’s birth.

In earlier days, when the disorder only manifested itself as a relatively benign condition known was hypomania, it may even have helped Carey become a success story. People who are hypomanic often possess heightened energy and goal-oriented drive.

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But Carey may have been occasionally hampered by an irritability that is also common among those with hypomania. Some of her friends took it to be a whiff of arrogance. A former employer says she sometime “just kind of went against the grain.”

Any difficulties were apparently minimized by the stabilizing effects of a good upbringing that had successfully guided Carey and four sisters through the hazards of growing up in East New York, the city’s toughest neighborhood. The family spirit seems to be exemplified by something her sister, Valarie Carey, posted online about herself.

“Never be afraid to reinvent yourself. I went from NYPD Sgt to Author, Speaker, Talk show host, Entrepreneur.”

As for Miriam Carey, she had smarts and a good-paying job as a dental hygienist, great looks, and an ability to look stylish even in scrubs. She was what one neighbor later called “a real catch.” She proceeded to make herself her own catch, buying a condo in Stamford and driving about in a sporty car, living the life, and living it on her own terms. Her irritation seemed entirely proportional when somebody stole the tires off her car and balked at paying the condo fees until surveillance cameras were installed.

Then, Carey fell victim to a confluence of stressors that began with a middle-of-the-night tumble at a friend’s house in 2011, resulting in a head injury serious enough to require hospitalization. The doctors gave her surprising news. She was pregnant.

With the baby came the exhausting demands any single mother faces, along with postpartum depression. Her irritability became more pronounced and she was fired from her job with a periodontic practice in Hamden.

These stressors, along with the possible effects of the head injury, seemed to push Carey past hypomania into a more serious manifestation of bipolar disorder. Her boyfriend would later say that she began to lose her mental balance in September of last year.

In early December, the stressors apparently triggered the full-blown manic episode that prompted the boyfriend to call the Stamford police. She was briefly hospitalized and sent home with medication in time for a family gathering in Brooklyn on December 20.

The next day, Carey was apparently again in such a state that the boyfriend again summoned police. She is said to have tussled with the cops, but was brought back to the hospital without being charged. She was soon stabilized and released.

One thing that distinguishes manic episodes from schizophrenia is that those who suffer them can suddenly appear to recover themselves completely, as Carey seemed to do by early January. Her boyfriend, as reported by ABC News, told a social worker that she was “100 percent normal.”

“You go back to being your regular self,” says the forensic psychiatrist, who asks not to be quoted by name.

But the psychiatrist cautions that once people suffer an episode of full-blown mania, they are more likely to have another.

“The more episodes you’ve had, the more episodes you have,” the psychiatrist says.

During the summer, Carey apparently had another episode while visiting her mother. A neighbor says that he saw her being carried out strapped to a stretcher, struggling and shouting, “The world’s gonna end! We’re all gonna die!”

As before, Carey seemed to recover herself. She appeared fine again and still a real catch on Tuesday, when she returned to Brooklyn, where her mother had been babysitting Erica. Carey set off with the girl saying they were going back to Connecticut. She said nothing about Washington, D.C.

That left the family all the more stunned by what the whole world witnessed on Thursday as Carey suffered another episode.

A fortnight before, a crazed gunman murdered 12 innocents at the Navy Yard just a mile away. And on Friday a man immolated himself on the nearby National Mall.

The real lockdown had been lifted shortly after Carey’s death. There was now just the shutdown. The government might want to address the issues surrounding mental illness if it ever does get back to work.