HUDSON, Fla (WFLA) – Devin Cooke is accused of breaking into a neighbor’s garage. For the first time, Devin’s mother is speaking publicly about his battle with mental illness and addiction.
“I was scared to death … absolutely scared to death,” said Sarah Cooke.
Cooke is referring to the incident that occurred last month in Rolling Oaks Estates. Deputies say Cooke’s son committed a crime.
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 Devin Cooke at gunpoint as she waited for deputies to respond to the scene.
Right now, the 25-year-old is facing a felony.
As Cooke sits in the Pasco County Jail, his mother wants to share a message with the victim.
“I’d really like to reach out to that mother and say thank you for not making me arrange my son’s funeral,” said Cooke.
“I really appreciate that as a mom.”
As a nurse, Cooke has a special understanding of mental illness, the system and it’s problems.
“The resources that are slim at best … that has been a struggle,” said Cooke.
There’s also the stigma associated with schizophrenia.
According to Cooke, Devin’s addiction has exasperated his illness. Like so many others who are suffering, he self-medicates.
“They’re trying to make the voices stop,” said Cooke.
“They’re trying to make the things that are not real around them go away.”
8 On Your Side Investigates if anything could have been done to prevent Devin’s latest, potentially deadly, encounter.
“When he’s in crisis, you don’t have a place to go to at that moment?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.
“You don’t,” said Cooke.
“The best thing you can do is get an ex parte and have them Baked Acted on your own.”
Cooke believes if there was urgent care for those in the middle of a crisis, her son would not be in jail right now.
8 On Your Side spoke with experts in the behavioral health field about this issue.
“Why is the emergency room not the right place for you if you’re having a mental breakdown?” asked investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi.
“The emergency room is a very active environment,” said Gail Ryder, the VP of Behavioral Health Services at BayCare.
Each year, Ryder’s organization cares for thousands of locals battling mental health and addiction issues.
“People with mental illness and substance abuse have the same problems,” said Ryder, “all of a sudden their depression becomes more than they can handle, and they can’t function.”
BayCare just launched a new initiative that will increase access to urgent care and help transform the current system.
“The emergency room is always necessary for certain parts of the illness, but the majority of people do need this other alternative,” said Ryder.
It’s a problem that BayCare has identified and is working to solve along with community partners. The name of the new effort is the West Central Florida Mental Wellness Coalition.
Multiple organizations within Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Polk counties have joined the effort.
In addition to urgent care access, the initiative hopes to develop a campaign that reduces the stigma associated with mental illness. They are also working to help those in need to understand and navigate the system.
Meantime, Devin’s mother says he is embarrassed about what has happened. She is concerned he is not getting the medication he needs while he is in custody.