Local News

Mental illness likely a factor in fatal Cary hostage standoff

Posted February 14, 2011 4:38 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2011 7:15 p.m. EST

— A hostage standoff at a Cary bank Thursday has stirred the community and raised safety concerns in a neighborhood where residents say violent crime is increasing.

Devon Mitchell, 19, carried a knit toboggan that he said was concealing a gun into the Wachovia bank at 10050 Green Level Church Road and held seven people hostage for three hours, police said. He was fatally shot by police as he left the bank with the toboggan held to a woman's head. Mitchell told hostages and the police that he had a gun, but Cary police said Sunday that Mitchell was not actually armed.

The bank reopened an hour late Monday and planned to resume normal business hours Tuesday, but employees who were present during the standoff have not returned to work. Staff from other branches are helping out.

The community, too, is still reeling.

"I think most of the people in this community feel it's truly a tragic story," said Cheryl Concepcion, who lives nearby. Her children attend school in the area.

"(My daughter) sent me a text that said, 'Mom, Code Yellow, we're locked down,'" she said. "Of course they didn't know what was going on, and neither did we at the time."

Friends described Mitchell as an artist, a musician and a sports fan who struggled with mental health issues.

"There were indications of a young man who was disturbed," said Debra Dihoff, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness' North Carolina chapter.

Dihoff said it's very likely that Mitchell suffered from mental illness. While help lines and other mental health programs are available to teens, Dihoff said it's important for community members to be proactive when they see someone in trouble.

"We need to bust through the stigma and discrimination," she said. "If more of that had been done with this 19-year-old, if more people had noticed signs, symptoms or problems, maybe he'd still be here with us."

Although police still aren’t sure what Mitchell’s motives might have been, they have speculated about why he wanted police to believe he was armed and whether he wanted the standoff to end the way it did.

"Why Devon set this all in motion, why he wanted us all to believe that he had a weapon and that he was prepared to kill with it are questions that we will never have the answers to. But it’s clear that's what Devon wanted us to believe," Police Chief Pat Bazemore said Sunday.

She added that interviews with Mitchell's friends and family indicated the teen was "troubled."

Friends said at a candlelight vigil Sunday that Mitchell was not a violent person

"He would never harm anybody. He never has. He's been going through so much lately," said Samantha Perry, who said she has known Mitchell for seven years. 

The standoff was the first fatal officer-involved shooting in the history of the Cary Police Department, Bazemore said Sunday.

She said five law enforcement agents discharged their weapons – a Wake County sheriff's deputy and four Cary officers – but she declined to say how many times Mitchell was shot.

The officers have been placed on administrative duty until the investigation into the shooting is complete, which is standard procedure whenever an officer discharges a weapon.

Cary town officials met Monday to discuss ideas for combating crime in the area.