8 On Your Side is investigating Florida’s mental health crisis after a disturbing incident in Hudson.
On Saturday, May 25, an alleged break-in happened in Rolling Oaks Estates.
Lauren Richards, a mother of four, says she experienced 26 minutes of terror that night. During half of that nightmare, she was forced to hold an alleged intruder at gunpoint as she waited for deputies to respond to the scene.
The accused intruder, 25-year-old Devin Cooke, lives nearby, according to a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office incident report.
Right now, Cooke is facing a felony.
Sarah Cooke, the suspect’s mother, says he has a history of mental illness. However, he did not get the help he needed in time.
Cooke says her son has been in and out of facilities for years.
Each time, Cooke says he would be released drugged up like a zombie; however, the problem of his underlying mental illness was never properly addressed.
Cooke says the facilities just didn’t have enough counselors, resources or funding to help her son.
On May 25, Cooke found deputies at her door in the middle of the night.
The notified her that her son had allegedly just broken into a neighbor’s garage. Two people held him at gunpoint.
Cooke realizes she could have lost her son, who is schizophrenic, on that night.
Online jail records show that Cooke has been booked into the Pasco County Jail six times since he turned 19 years old.
8 On Your Side investigates the resources available for those who need it — whether they have committed a crime or not.
“Those very serious cases, how often do you come across those?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.
“We come across those daily,” said Clara Reynolds, the CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
“They tell us they’ve got the noose already formed.”
According to the latest State of Mental Health in America report, Florida ranks number one in the country for adults with serious thoughts of suicide.
At the same time, we’re close to the bottom for access to care, coming in at number 43.
Florida ranks at number 42 for mental health workforce availability.
Reynolds says we spend less money than any other state on this issue.
“There’s a whole host of reasons,” she said.
According to Reynolds, Florida didn’t expand Medicaid. We haven’t invested dollars in the traditional behavioral health system and the money that we do spend is spread across too many agencies.
“So if I’m an individual, depending upon what I qualify for, I might be able to get a dime here, a quarter there,” said Reynolds.
“We truly haven’t been able to create a comprehensive system of care particularly for grownups.”
Florida has reduced the stigma once associated with mental illness, but we’ve got a long way to go in making services accessible for people with the most severe illness.
The Crisis Center says they get nearly 115 thousand calls a year. If you need them, they are available 24/7 by calling 211.