RALEIGH, N.C. — A man who killed two people and wounded another in a 1995 shooting spree in downtown Chapel Hill was returned to Dorothea Dix Hospital Friday morning following his 12-hour disappearance from the state mental hospital in Raleigh.
Hospital officials say Wendell Williamson, 36, called Dorothea Dix from a boating area at Lake Wheeler, about six miles from the hospital, where hospital officials picked him up and returned him to the facility without incident around 9 a.m.
Williamson was last seen in a lounge on the campus of the state mental hospital around 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Workers realized he was missing when he did not return to his ward following a meeting.
Dorothea Dix officials say it is hospital policy to search the grounds first before contacting police. An alert was issued at 12:42 a.m. and Raleigh police began searching the downtown train station and across town.
Williamson was considered a danger to himself and others.
"Everyone is breathing a little easier knowing that he is apparently back at Dix," said Jim Sughrue of the Raleigh Police Department.
On Jan. 26, 1995, Williamson, then a law student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, walked along Henderson Street with an M-1 rifle, wearing a camouflage jacket and carrying 600 rounds of ammunition in a knapsack.
Williamson began shooting randomly at people, killing Ralph Walker, a Chapel Hill resident sitting on his front porch, and Kevin Reichardt, a UNC student riding a bicycle. A police officer was wounded.
Williamson was found not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of insanity at his trial in November 1995. He was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia and was committed after his trial.
Williamson was transferred to Dorothea Dix in December 1998 from the Broughton Mental Institution in Morganton after it as discovered he had a drinking problem.
At Williamson's annual review in 2002, a doctor testified Williamson was a model patient. An Orange County judge gave Williamson a little leeway, allowing him up to an hour of unsupervised time every day.
News of Williamson's disappearance was troubling for the family of UNC student Kevin Reichardt, who was killed in the shooting.
"Well, it's just extremely upsetting," father Karl Reichardt said. "I'm angry. I've been extremely angry for the last half of his commitment, because he's getting all of these things as a result of a mental illness and he really is not only mentally ill, he is a murderer."
Williamson is in a high-security ward where patients are constantly monitored.
"Right now, of course, he has lost all privileges, but the court order still stands," said Mark Van Sciver, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesman.
Officials say Williamson was taking his medication for schizophrenia at the time of his disappearance.