Retracing the warning signs in a fatal stabbing

The challenge is to balance personal freedom, mandatory treatment

It was painful to read the heartbreaking front-page article (“Records trace odd behavior of suspect,” March 8) chronicling Jeffrey Yao’s encounters with school officials, local police, and mental health providers over the past six years, knowing full well the tragic outcome after all these well-meaning interventions.

Assessing the likelihood of suicidal or homicidal behavior is far from an exact science.

Violence and mental illness are not highly associated. A small number of individuals with serious mental illness do commit acts of violence, but individuals who are not being treated commit almost all of these acts. There is no evidence that those receiving effective treatment are more dangerous than individuals in the general population.


Yao appeared to have been well monitored by the Winchester police, his concerned father, mental health professionals, and members of the public who took courageous and appropriate steps to alert authorities when his behavior appeared out of control.

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There are no easy solutions when attempting to weigh an individual’s rights and freedom against society’s need for peace and safety. It is not clear how compliant Yao was with psychiatric treatment, but apparently at times he went “off his meds,” as the police put it. I would venture to guess treatment was intermittent at best.

So, in light of this tragedy, we are left to wrestle with the ethical dilemma of how to balance mandatory treatment against an individual’s right to refuse.

Paul Goldberg


The writer is a clinical social worker.

This tragic case points to a failure
of state policy and oversight

As painful as it is, I appreciate the Globe’s keeping the deeply regrettable killing of Deane Kenny Stryker before the public, so that we must repeatedly try to answer the question as to how her young life could have been preserved and how the treatment of her alleged killer, Jeffrey Yao, should have proceeded for society’s protection and his own. However, I have not read any interview of anyone from the Commonwealth’s Department of Mental Health, nor have I seen reaction from any state politician, including the governor.

The DMH had, and continues to have, a role to play. The agency closed the institutions that served as centers of expertise specializing in the safe care of the mentally ill, supposedly in order to create a community-based mental health care system that the state oversees.


This shocking and terrible event is a horrible failure that goes beyond any police force or local hospital or school system. This failure is that of the policy makers at the state and federal level who shirk their responsibility to provide adequate care for the mentally ill. And so their silence speaks.

Joseph Nazzaro