Local News

Williamson's 13-Hour Disappearance Sparks Concerns About Community Safety

Posted June 15, 2004

— The man who went on a deadly shooting spree in Chapel Hill nine years ago was back at Dorothea Dix Hospital Friday night.

Wendell Williamson slipped away from the Wake County mental institution Thursday night. Orange County District Attorney Carl Fox said he was not surprised.

"At first, I was stunned," Fox said. "But I can't say that I was surprised. Dorothea Dix is not a secured campus."

Police searched all night for Williamson after he slipped away from the hospital sometime after 8 p.m. Thursday.

Williamson called Dix police Friday morning from a boat ramp at Lake Wheeler seven miles away. He was returned to the hospital 13 hours after he slipped away.

Later Friday, the hospital was answering questions about how Williamson got away in the first place.

"It's very regrettable," Dix spokesperson Mark Van Sciver said. "We wanted to get him back as soon as possible."

Many people remember Williamson's case. Two people were killed and a police officer injured in his rampage on Jan. 26. 1995. He stood trial for first-degree murder, but a jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

The disappearance may have been a side effect of Williamson's court-appointed treatment program. Van Sciver said Williamson -- a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic -- was allowed up to an hour of unsupervised time a day.

"Part of the treatment is getting them used to being responsible for themselves," Van Sciver said.

Raleigh City Council member Phillip Isley said the community deserves an explanation and reassurance that supervision at Dorothea Dix is adequate.

Isley said he planned to address the case at Tuesday's council meeting.

"My hope is that the state will take our request seriously," Isley said. "This impacts the people of Raleigh more than anything."

Every time Williamson's name makes headlines, the memories come rushing back for his victims. Friday was no different.

"He shot right through my car window," said Demetrise Stephenson, the police officer who was shot in the hand during Williamson's shooting spree. "He shot at me 28 times. I later found out that 28 bullets came through my car."

Stephenson said she realizes Williamson is sick but added that he does not belong in the real world.

The fact that Williamson called the hospital and was returned 13 hours later was little comfort to Stephenson.

"Although he does have an illness, I don't think . . . he should be a part of the community without assistance or supervision," Stephenson said. "Something needs to be done. That's the bottom line."

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