Health & Spirit

Miami woman couldn't get mental health care for son before he was charged with gruesome crime

David Ovalle, Miami Herald on

Published in Health & Fitness

In many ways, Wright's need to protect her son was molded by Jimmy's savage murder. "Mr. Ryce told me 'Della, don't you never leave Jerome alone,' she said. "That stuck with me."

Jerome's childhood seemed normal. He got piggyback rides from his mom, played basketball at Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School and said he wanted to be a gourmet chef.

The first inkling that something was wrong came when Jerome was about 14. One night, Jerome began hollering and screaming for no apparent reason. The episode was so bad that Wright, then a night-shift private security guard at a condo building, took him to work. After her shift, she drove him to a Citrus Health clinic, but not before he tried to take the wheel from her. Witnesses called 911.

"Police escorted me straight to the hospital," Wright said.

The diagnosis baffled Wright. Schizophrenia. The disease was causing him to hear voices in his head. And he got no better.

At 15, he had his first brush with the law. That day, he refused to leave with his babysitter. His mother called police "to scare him." He pushed a Miami cop and got charged with battery on a law-enforcement officer.


His probation was supposed to be for a year, but got extended when he kept testing positive for marijuana. The court ordered him to Riverside Academy, an all-boys school in Tampa that is now closed, where he completed a year-long program.

"He did well. That boy did well. They had psychiatrists and everything," Wright said.

But back in Miami, Jerome fell back onto the streets. He dropped out of high school and was declared disabled because of his schizophrenia. At 19, he was arrested for buying cocaine outside a store near his home. As happened several times for his low-level arrests, Jerome got probation –– but no mental-health treatment.

At home, at his mother's urging, Jerome tried with little luck to work through a local labor pool. She took him to free classes at the Homeless Assistance Center, but he got booted when a teacher said he wasn't doing his work. She even spent $18 on a study book for the General Educational Development test. It went unread.


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