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.
"He took it really hard when girls would break up with him," Robillard said.
Robillard said he befriended Page more out of pity.
"He had no one," Robillard said.
To be selected for the psychological operations corps, he would have had to pass a battery of very difficult tests, Liebert said.
"These guys aren't just shining lights. They are beacons," he said.
Specialists train for 24 weeks before they are assigned. Page ultimately was promoted to sergeant, his military record shows.
The job of psy-ops specialists is to try and "get into the heads of the enemy," Liebert said.
Specialists are trained to win influence with the enemy and get them to surrender.
"The idea is to win the war with paper, not bullets," Robillard said.
Page's drinking eventually got him in trouble. He showed up for work drunk and was told to either accept treatment or resign, Robillard said.
He refused treatment and was "chaptered out," a procedure akin to firing, said Robillard and Fred Lucas, who also served with Page in the psy-ops corps.
"I wish now that we had tried hard to talk him into staying," Robillard said.
After leaving the Army, Page went to Denver. He lived with a woman there for a while but they broke up and Page lived for a time on the streets and got deeper into the white supremacist culture, Robillard said.
Robillard said Page visited him in Arkansas around 2000 and made a lot of racist remarks, which upset Robillard's wife.
"I could tell he wasn't right," Robillard said.
Robillard said he tried to talk to his friend, but Page wouldn't listen.
"I said, 'Why are you doing this? Why are you running with this crowd?' " Robillard said. "But Wade made a joke of it."
Page told him a strange story about how he had been wearing a sleeveless shirt and riding a bus in Denver. A little African-American child on the bus seemed afraid of Page, staring at the tattoos on his body.
"He talked about it like it hurt his feelings that the child was afraid of him," Robillard said. "It was just like he didn't get it. Here is someone that he supposedly hated that he was worried about how they perceived him."
Two years later, Page stopped by again on his way through town while he was working as a truck driver, operating out of North Carolina.
"He seemed good," Robillard said.
Page, active in the white supremacist music world, moved to the Milwaukee area late last year. He was living with his girlfriend, Misty Cook, a nursing student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who also was active in white supremacy groups, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate speech websites and organizations.
The two broke up in June, and Page moved to Cudahy where he rented a room from Kurt Weins.
Page revealed on his application that he needed an apartment because he had broken up with his live-in girlfriend in South Milwaukee, Weins recalled.
In mid-July, Page moved into an apartment that Weins owned in Cudahy.
Weins said Page showed no signs of being troubled. He fell behind on paying his rent but pledged in a July 30 text message to square up on $730 in back rent.
Page said he'd had a hectic week, apologized and said he'd pay the rent on Aug. 5, Weins said.
That was the day Page went on the murderous rampage at the temple, located down the street from where Cook worked as a waitress.
Robillard, now a warehouse supervisor in Portland, Ore., said he lost track of Page over the years but would occasionally look for information about his old Army pal.
Even as recently as three weeks ago, Robillard was checking the Internet for news of Page.
"He was heading in the wrong direction and, let's face it, I was worried something like this could happen."
(Ellen Gabler, Jim Nelson and Dave Umhoefer of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.)
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