State Senator’s Son Was Talented and Troubled

Friends and family remember Gus Deeds as lively and musical, but he struggled after his father's losing campaign and parents' divorce

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Hyunsoo Leo Kim / Virginian-Pilot / AP

State senator Creigh Deeds, right, with his son Gus while campaigning for governor of Virginia in 2009

Johnny Camacho was at work in Salem, Va., on Tuesday when he glanced up to see his friend’s father’s image on a television screen.

“I thought maybe they were doing an interview,” says Camacho. “Then I saw it said, ‘Senator Deeds stabbed and son confirmed dead.’”

A near namesake of his famous father, the 24-year-old Austin Creigh “Gus” Deeds died on Tuesday in an incident that has left family broken, friends shaken and politicians wondering whether Virginia — still reeling from the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech — needs better protection for citizens under mental duress. Authorities say Gus stabbed state senator Creigh Deeds multiple times in the face and upper torso before fatally shooting himself.

The violent outburst shocked family and friends. “Gus brought a lot of joy and a lot of smiles to our faces and a lot of great music as well,” says Jared Leopold, press secretary for Deeds’ 2009 campaign for governor. Leopold remembers a banjo-toting, father-doting young man who made music throughout the commonwealth.

“Just about everything about him stood out,” says his faculty adviser at the College of William and Mary, Brian Hulse. “A wide, expansive personality, and he always contributed to class every day.”

Tony Walters graduated from Bath County High School the year after Gus Deeds was named the school valedictorian and followed him to William and Mary, where Gus pursued his love of music. “He was like a brother to me — one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” says Walters.

But Walters suggests that Gus suffered a breakdown after his father’s 2009 political loss — Gus had put college on hold to help out — and his parents’ divorce the following year. The Washington Post reported that state senator Deeds had told friends his marriage to his college sweetheart Pam had fallen victim to political ambition.

Walters says Gus’ lifelong appreciation of religion suddenly turned into a more zealous perspective. “He would claim that God was speaking to him or that God told him to do this or do that,” says Walters. “At one point he drove across the country and then drove back. God told him to see the Pacific.”

Two summers ago when Gus returned to Nature Camp in nearby Vesuvius, where Walters was working as the head of male staff, he says there was concern over letting Gus come back as a counselor. As it turned out, Gus performed so well he returned the following summer and won the Director’s Award.

“He was good with homesick children, coming up with hike ideas, and generally thinking outside of the box,” says Walters.

At one point, Walters remembered that Gus went to work in the kitchen of the nearby Homestead resort. Washing dishes wasn’t glamorous work, but jobs can be hard to find in this part of Virginia.

Walters agrees with longtime family friend and Charlottesville-based state delegate David Toscano that the father took “Herculean” measures to help the troubled young man, getting him therapy, medication, an inpatient stay, and then ensuring that he took frequent hikes to get out of the house. Gus withdrew from William and Mary last month.

Camacho, who says he and Gus bonded as elementary-school trombone players and remained friends even after choosing separate schools, remembers the father and son as easy companions.

“They loved cracking jokes and busting on each other,” says Camacho, who once accompanied the father and son on a campaign swing. “It was such a high level of wit that it played like a scene from Shakespeare.”

The issue of mental health was more than personal for state senator Deeds. After the Virginia Tech shooting, Deeds was among the state lawmakers who championed a wave of mental-health reforms designed to improve the state’s ability to protect individuals at risk of harming themselves and others.

Tragically, it became all too real this week. Gus underwent a state-ordered emergency mental-health evaluation on Monday, but was released the same day.

Authorities say Gus attacked his father early on Tuesday morning by the horse barn on the family compound, which occupies the top of a wooded knoll. Despite his injuries, the elder Deeds broke free, escaping down the hill and out to Route 42, the two-lane highway that bisects the rural municipality of just 4,700 residents.

A sheriff’s deputy says it was a cousin who found the wounded Deeds and summoned medical attention. A few hours later, across the street, another cousin, Gerald Wood, alternated between staring at cable news and answering a reporter’s questions.

“Gus used to come by here trick-or-treating,” recalls his wife Betty Wood. “And every Christmas we’d get a Christmas card.” On school breaks, she remembers, he would join the local men who’d play music in the hunting cabin in front of their house.

“You just wonder what happened,” says Gerald Wood. “And why.”

17 comments
graydonben
graydonben

As a camper at Nature Camp, I know first hand how amazing Gus was.  As the article said, he would sit with kids on the boys bunkhouse porch, play his banjo (God he was good) and chat it up with kids.  He made learning Botany fun.  It's awful and tragic what happened.  Gonna miss you Guster. 

mchasewalker
mchasewalker

One more clear indication that when someone claims they're in communication with "God", it's medication time...  Walters says Gus’ lifelong appreciation of religion suddenly turned into a more zealous perspective. “He would claim that God was speaking to him or that God told him to do this or do that,” says Walters. “At one point he drove across the country and then drove back. God told him to see the Pacific.”


Read more: Gus Deeds: State Senator's Son Was Talented, Troubled | TIME.com http://nation.time.com/2013/11/20/state-senators-son-was-talented-and-troubled/#ixzz2lIFYmCh8

sydblack
sydblack

Most compelling question is whether Gus Deeds would have received better psych treatment if his father wasn't state senator.  Can only sweep mental illness under the rug for so long.  

DeeWhite
DeeWhite

I'd like to know more about the brand spanking new wife father married just last year after ditching long-time spouse in 2010 -- likely trigger?

Hotpuppy
Hotpuppy

How sad... this is the real cost of not caring for the mentally ill in America.

MatteoRodrigo
MatteoRodrigo

People with mental illness - whether depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia or something else, are often very smart.  Smart people get cancer too.  But lets keep making it more difficult for people to access healthcare, lets continue stigmatizing mental illness, and lets make sure everyone is walking around with a gun.  We're going to hear these stories more and more.  And this was a well off family - or at least one with power.  A psychiatrist costs $400 or more per session while a therapist is easily $150-200…medications can be super expensive as well and long term residential treatment can be $2000 a day, which is unaffordable to most.  Otherwise people may be hospitalized in a crisis for short term but don't get the treatment they need to achieve long term stability and success

IbcinguToo
IbcinguToo

As someone whose father committed suicide, all I can say is - this is sooooooooooo sad.  Especially since he was so young.  We need more & better mental health care!!!

rhrhrh
rhrhrh

I know more than a few valedictorians who cracked.  One had perfect SAT scores, went to Princeton, and had a nervous breakdown.  Ended up in agricultural school and loved it.  Regardless of his politics, I hope the Senator recovers and is able to make some sense of what has happened.


richard.draucker
richard.draucker

@DeeWhite That's an emotional issue.  Emotional issues don't cause mental illness.  Mental illness may use such an event as an excuse for a violent action, but the even itself does not do the equivalent of causing a scratch that gets infected.  Don't confuse how mentally ill people respond to emotional stimulus with such a stimulus being the source of the mental illness. 

DeeWhite
DeeWhite

@richard.draucker @DeeWhite  

This whole primarily male discussion just ASSUMES son mentally ill, and doesn't even acknowledge the often horrible (emotional/mental--you name it) effect such a divorce as this can have .  Guess they don't want to think leaving their first wives as they climb the ladder even counts for anything in the spectrum of their children.   Hence must have been "mentally ill" rather than -- to use your distinction -- extremely emotionally upset.  (The fact that he would have been held some hours longer on an application by father does not verify mental illness -- it just suggests he was being examined for it, likely after "emotional" outbursts, etc.) 

LarryAlmarode
LarryAlmarode

@richard.draucker @DeeWhite Most people with mental health challenges, near 90%, have experienced some sort of severe trauma. Emotional distress can cause people to be overwhelmed and do things they normally wouldn't do as a result. To say that emotional issues don't cause "mental illness" which is an emotional disorder is a very interesting proposition 

richard.draucker
richard.draucker

@DeeWhite @richard.draucker  First of all, more marriages end as a result of women cheating on their husbands with younger men than the other way around.  Second of all, he wasn't climbing any ladder, he was already on the top rung.  Climbers don't get to run for governor.  Frankly, your comments show you are something of a man hating womens libber who feels the need to blame all things bad on men.  

My guess is, since the boy was living with his father and was so dedicated to helping during his father's campaign, his mother is who caused the divorce and did so because, while her husband and son were campaigning, she was running around with young boys and couldn't stop when the two of them returned from the campaign.  She tried to molest him one night during one of those drunken drug binges American women so commonly do when they are on the prowl for young boys to molest, and the boy hadn't been right since. 


still
still

Serious mental illness is not an emotional disorder.  Psychotic illnesses which cause the patient to think those who love them most and are trying to help them are enemies, are medical conditions treated by psychiatrists, who are MDs who specialize in psychiatric illnesses, and treat patients with prescription drugs. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/psychosis/Pages/Introduction.aspxhttp://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/psychosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx

richard.draucker
richard.draucker

@LarryAlmarode @richard.draucker @DeeWhite The majority of American marriages end in divorce.  Millions of American children deal with it just fine because they are mentally healthy.  It's those who are not mentally healthy who are unable to handle the emotional upheaval that results.  The problem is that, for many people, no one becomes aware of the mental health issue until that emotional issue makes it obvious.  That's why so many people think emotional issues cause mental instability.  

It's odd to me that so many people have a problem recognizing this.  If you cut your toe and gangrene sets in, then you find out from your doctor you have poor circulation; you wouldn't blame the poor circulation on the gangrene, you would recognize that your poor circulation allowed the gangrene to set in.  

Maybe his emotional state was affected by the divorce in much the same way that a cut affects your toe.  Millions of people deal with it just fine, but for those with poor circulation (mental illness), gangrene (destructive behaviors) may set in.