LAWRENCEVILLE, GEORGIA – A Gwinnett County mental patient is accused of stabbing his younger brother 35 times, less than an hour after he was released from a Lawrenceville psychiatric hospital.
His mother said similar tragedies happen to other Georgia families. She told Channel 2’s Diana Davis it all comes down to a lack of mental health services.
Stephon Banks’ psychiatric problems began around the time he turned 18. His mother, Margaret Burton, said he went from a straight-A student to behaving strangely and isolating himself. She said she discovered her son covered in blood after he cut his own eye.
“We rushed to the emergency room where they said he had punctured it with a knife,” Burton told Davis.
Banks, now 24, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and his condition got worse. For the next six years, he was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. His latest stay was for 10 days at SummitRidge in Lawrenceville.
He was discharged one week ago and sent home to his family.
“They said he was OK. The doctor cleared him,” Burton said.
Less than an hour after Burton brought her son home, she said he attacked his 18-year-old brother, stabbing him 35 times. Burton said she heard a commotion in the living room.
“I saw the knife, and I tried to fight him for it, grab it out of his hand,” she said.
She got the knife but said Banks grabbed two more knives and continued stabbing his brother while screaming Bible verses. Burton described her son’s look as strange and lifeless.
“It was hollow, empty. It just didn’t seem like it was him,” she said. “He was saying, ‘Satan leave me. Satan leave me.’”
Banks is being held at the Gwinnett County Jail on aggravated assault charges.
His brother spent six days in intensive care for the stab wounds, a collapsed lung and a lacerated liver.
Now, Burton is in agony for both of her sons. She’s worried about her 18-year-old’s recovery and angry that her other son was discharged from SummittRidge, along with two other hospitals last month, including East Side Heritage in Snellville. Both hospitals declined to comment due to hospital privacy laws.
East Side discharged Banks after six days. His release papers said he had homicidal thoughts and wanted to kill himself and his mother, but his mother said no one at the center told her. She discovered the discharge papers only after the attack.
“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. If someone says they’re going to kill someone. That’s not serious enough to warrant a phone call?” Burton said.
She told Davis she’s sharing her story to expose the cracks in the system and the lack of services for the mentally ill.
“It’s not just my story. This is happening almost every day. Everywhere, people are being discharged from hospitals, and they’re not ready and who’s accountable? Who’s responsible?” she said.
An advocate for the mentally ill told Davis what happened to Banks is by no means an isolated incident. She said both private and state psychiatric hospitals are underfunded.
Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Georgia for poor conditions in state mental hospitals. Though improvements are being made, Georgia ranks near the bottom when it comes to funding for the mentally ill.