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article imageElaine Sonnen, Unsung Hero

By KJ Mullins     Apr 11, 2008 in Health
When Elaine Sonnen saw that her son was following in the footsteps of the boys who carried out the massacre at Columbine she stepped in saving countless lives. Her son Richard, 19, now is thankful for that intervention.
Two and a half years ago Elaine Sonnen was having a conversation with her son Richard when he admitted that he wanted to take out members of his school. Instead of turning a blind eye she had him write down a list of those he wanted to kill and gave his caseworker the list the next door. Then in a total act of love that had to have broken her heart she had Richard committed to an Idaho mental institution. That act helped turn Richard's life around for the better.
Richard came into the lives of Elaine and Tom Sonnen when he was just four years old. Adopted from a Bulgarian orphanage the couple loved him from the beginning. There was a side though to the polite little boy that only Elaine and Tom saw. At times he was unpredictable and angry screaming that he wanted to destroy the ones who loved him most.
People thought he was just the greatest kid in the world. Very polite, well-mannered, caring," remembers Elaine Sonnen. "At home, he could be anywhere from just a really helpful kid to a monster. A terrifying monster."
Richard can now be thankful that his parents didn't hide their heads in the sand but instead sought help from the mental health community. When he was in middle school he was diagnosed as being bipolar and put on anti-psychotic medicine. He dealt with bullies at his school that helped fire a deep anger within.
In 1988 when the Columbine shootings happened the Sonnen's knew that their son could become like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. They wisely watched their son's actions and listened to what he had to say.
"They planned it out so perfectly and so meticulously ... that I just wow, you know," Richard said. "They're my Gods."
He plotted to set bombs up around his school. His plan was perfectly analyzed to where those he wanted to take out sat and did their thing.
During that time period a talk with his mother changed what could of been into what should be. Richard spent a year and a half in an institution getting treatment and becoming mentally healthy.
"There, I opened up. I felt better. I moved on with myself," Richard said.
"They felt at that point ... they had done everything they could do for him," added Elaine Sonnen. "He was doing great. He could make it on his own. They had no question."
He started to attend Lewis-Clark State College in January of 2007. Taking a cocktail of three anti-psychotic drugs it seemed all was turning around for the young man.
Than the Virginia Tech shootings happened. Three days later Elaine received a call from the police saying that Richard had plotted to carry out a shooting at his college.
Richard says it was a misunderstand. He was just telling others about his plot in high school. Elaine believes that the police had it right though.
Richard now lives in Washington State on his own. He still takes his meds but no longer sees a doctor. Elaine can't force him to, he's an adult. He signed an order banning him from campus for a year.
Mrs. Sonnen admits she is afraid of her son.
"Yeah, at times, I'm very afraid," she said. "Because he still has a lot of anger towards me."
When he is home for a visit Elaine has an alarm on his bedroom door. She fears what could happen if he were to stop taking his medicine.
He's not getting the help and the insight from a professional that could see the signs," she said. "Because as a person with a mental illness you have skewed thinking."
Why are mother and son speaking out now? To prevent others from not seeking help when it is needed. His mother hopes their story will help parents and authorities to listen to the warning signs and act fast if they hear words that could signal a disaster in the making.
Richard calls Elaine the "greatest person in the world." Although she fears him, it's clear that this mother's love saved many.
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