Wade Michael Page, the man who killed six Sikh worshippers at an Oak Creek, Wis., temple Sunday before shooting himself in the head, was so mentally unstable after breaking up with a girlfriend that his Army friends once had to break into his apartment to make sure he had not committed suicide.
They found Page passed out from alcohol on the floor sometime in 1997, said Christopher Robillard, who served with Page at the time in the Army's elite psychological operations corps.
Instead of reporting the incident to authorities, Robillard said he and his friends covered up for Page - a decision Robillard says he now "deeply regrets."
"We thought at the time to keep it to ourselves, but I wish now that we would have reported it," Robillard said.
The incident is one of what must have been dozens of missed signals over the years, said Jennifer Dunn, a psychiatric nurse who lived downstairs from Page in a Cudahy, Wis., duplex for two weeks before the shootings.
"If anyone had evaluated this man, a gazillion red flags would have gone off," Dunn said. "It was obvious to me that he had huge mental illness."
Dunn said she never called the police because, while she saw Page acting oddly, he did not do anything that was dangerous enough to warrant committing him.
Last Saturday, the day before the shootings, Dunn and her daughter saw Page bring down two garbage bags - presumably the same two bags that he arrived with when he moved in two weeks earlier. After circling nervously around his truck for several minutes, Page got in the driver's seat and sat staring out the window for several minutes.
The behavior seemed so odd to Dunn's 10-year-old daughter that she came inside to tell her mother she was scared.
None of that would have been enough to satisfy authorities that Page should be detained for a mental health evaluation for his own safety or the safety of others, Dunn said.
But the suicide scare of 1997 would have been enough to alert Army doctors that Page had mental illness and was unfit for duty, said John Liebert, a psychiatrist who does fitness exams for the military and has written an academic text on suicidal mass murderers.
"Page had no business being in the military, especially in a sensitive job like psychological operations specialist," Liebert said. "Where was his commander? His commander certainly knew most, if not all of this, or his commander was incompetent.
"This guy was not peeling potatoes."
To some, Page had long been considered an odd man.
He grew up in Colorado. His parents divorced when he was young and Page lived with his mother until she died of lupus, family members said. He then moved in with his grandmother.
He joined the Army in 1992 when he was 20 and was assigned to Fort Bliss in Texas. In 1995, he applied for and was granted acceptance into the Army's psychological operations corps, military records show. He was trained at Fort Bragg in North Carolina until his discharge in 1998.
Robillard, who met Page in 1995, described him as painfully shy and "super sensitive."
"He would stand in the corner and not say anything to anybody for long stretches of time," Robillard said.
He was a loner who drank heavily and never went home for the holidays or talked about his family.
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