Ten years later: Laura’s Law is “overlooked and underused”

Laura Wilcox
Editor’s note: On this coming Monday morning, 10 years ago, college student Laura Wilcox, 19 was gunned down in the county’s HEW building. The shooting rampage left two others dead and two others wounded. California passed Laura’s Law in 2002 to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to another family.

But the law meant to prevent such a tragedy is overlooked and underused in 56 of 58 counties. Here’s an update from the Treatment Advocacy Center:

“Laws like this one have been shown to spare lives and reduce taxpayer costs elsewhere,” said James Pavle, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers to treatment for severe mental illness. “In this era of limited resources and continuing senseless tragedies, it is inexcusable that all but two California counties have failed to opt into this compassionate, common-sense approach.”

Laura’s Law authorizes court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with untreated severe mental illness if they meet strict legal criteria.

The law was passed by the California Legislature in 2002, a year after Scott H. Thorpe — a recluse with a history of untreated mental health problems — went on the shooting rampage that left Wilcox, Pearlie Mae Feldman, 68, and Mike Markle, 24, dead. Two other victims were wounded in the attacks.

To date, Los Angeles County has opted into a small pilot program of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT). In Nevada County, where the killings took place, the law has been fully implemented and proven so successful that the county was honored in 2010 by the California State Association of Counties.

In announcing the recognition, CSAC said Nevada County offset public costs of $80,000 with savings estimated at $203,000 that otherwise would have been spent on hospitalization and incarceration of program participants.

Amanda and Nick Wilcox
“California passed Laura’s Law to help make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to another family,” said Nick Wilcox, Laura’s father. “Each year that goes by without California counties implementing the law is another year when tragedies that could have been prevented can – and, sadly, will – occur.”

Moreover, Wilcox said, implementing the law would “make it possible for people who are severely ill to get the mental health care they so desperately need.”

Pavle of the Treatment Advocacy Center said preventable tragedies such as the Nevada County killings could be reduced in California if more counties implemented Laura’s Law or if the California legislature mandated implementation statewide.

Thorpe remains in a state mental hospital where he was committed after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

FIVE YEARS AGO: An article written at the fifth anniversary of Laura’s death, raising many of the same issues, is here.

VIDEO: An NCTV interview with Laura’s parents, Nick and Amanda Wilcox, in 2006 is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

3 thoughts on “Ten years later: Laura’s Law is “overlooked and underused””

  1. Here’s The Union’s take on the story:
    “Tenth anniversary of Thorpe shooting on Monday. This story has been unpublished and is no longer available.”

  2. What a tragedy. God Bless her family for directing their pain toward such good work. In reading the piece, it is my understanding that the Wilcox family contributed some of the first monies directed toward this mental health law. A living testament to their love for their daughter. Kate Hancock

  3. Many of us here in western Nevada County remember the day these killings occurred, and vowed to do what we could to see it never happened here again. I had gone with a visitor from L A to the B and C shopping area across from Lyons restaurant, where the third shooting was done, police cars there, an ambulance where someone was being loaded, businesses closed or closing down. I found someone who told us, briefly, what he knew. I believe the third victim was an employee at Lyons, where the shooter had gone after killing the first 2 at H & W. I couldn’t believe this could happen in Nevada County. But I knew many owned guns for hunting, “varmints,” and gun control was, my opinion, pretty lax. My family had visited, a son who is law enforcement in AZ, had his guns and he and brothers wanted to do some target shooting. He called to find out about a shooting range, was told to just go out behind his mom’s house (I lived on 3 acres). Another time, I called a neighbor to come and shoot a rattler stuck under my garden fence, must have just swallowed a field mouse and had a lump in its belly. I didn’t have a gun due to fear for visiting grandchildren, but several neighbors did. The Scott Thorpe tragedy taught us all a hard lesson, when all the information came out. One of the things I also recall was going to a BOS meeting to try to stop a proposed gun show at the fairgrounds, as those events were where people such as Thorpe and the Columbine kids could obtain guns. The Wilcoxes, of course, made gun control and Laura’s Law their life’s work. Nevada County learned our lesson from this terrible tragedy, and it is one we never forgot, but should be reminded of periodically, lest it might happen again. So thanks for this, Jeff. And I would hope your notice would get those at The Union to get off their duff and do the same. And other counties should profit from our tragedy where a beautiful young girl and 2 other innocents were victims of an insane man able to obtain killing weapons and use them. The preventative law is there, but the counties must use it.

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