In Howard County, parents of Jacksonville shooting suspect had been desperate to find psychiatric care for son

The Baltimore Sun

Years before a 24-year-old Columbia man allegedly unleashed a deadly barrage of gunfire at a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., the parents of David Katz had been desperate to find some treatment for their son’s troubling behavior.

They had tried psychiatric care in Towson and Rockville, enrolled him in public and private schools, and even sent him to Utah for a therapeutic wilderness school for teens.

Court records show his behavior was still worrisome.

Despite mental health troubles, Jacksonville shooter David Katz was able to buy guns in Maryland »

“David would go days without bathing, would play video games until 4 a.m. on school nights, would walk around the house in circles,” Howard County Circuit Judge Lenore Gelfman wrote in 2010. “[He] was failing all classes at Hammond High, was unresponsive to school teachers and uncooperative with school psychotherapists/counselors, and was extremely hostile toward his mother.”

Katz once punched a hole through his mother’s bedroom door to retrieve the video game controllers she had taken from him, his mother, Elizabeth Katz, told the court.

The young man’s mental health and treatment were among the issues at the center of a contentious decade-long divorce case between his parents. Hundreds of pages of court records reveal his troubling behavior and his parents’ search for a treatment in the years preceding Sunday’s deadly attack.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said Katz shot and killed two people and injured 10 others before taking his own life during the “Madden” football video-game tournament in Jacksonville. Elijah Clayton, a 22-year-old football star from California, and Taylor Robertson, a 28-year-old from West Virginia, were killed.

On Monday, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said investigators have not yet determined a motive. He said Katz recently purchased the two handguns he used in the shooting legally from a licensed dealer in the Baltimore area.

Charles Spencer, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville office, said the agency continues to investigate Katz’s actions before the shooting — where he was, where he stayed and with whom he had contact. Agents are also looking into Katz’s history.

David Katz was raised in Columbia as the youngest son of Richard and Elizabeth Katz. At the time of their divorce in 2005, Richard Katz was a prominent engineer who designed electronics for NASA spacecraft. Dr. Elizabeth Katz worked as a toxicologist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Rockville. The couple had two boys, Brandon and David. The family lived in the tree-lined suburbs of Howard County. Neither parent could be reached for comment Monday.

Neighbor Peggy Marx, 52, remembers the family keeping to themselves. She would invite them to neighborhood barbecues and events, but they’d never come. Some neighbors, Marx said, would comment on how they saw police cars outside the family home. The family moved away years ago.

“Them being antisocial,” Marx said, “that’s the only thing that makes them memorable.”

Another neighbor remembers them differently. Renee Williamson said the family was quiet, but did try to reach out. When Williamson gave birth years ago, the Katz family brought her a gift. Still, she didn’t know the family well. They once invited her to their son’s karate tournament. They haven’t spoken since the family moved and the parents divorced.

In a 2010 ruling on child support, a Howard County judge noted David Katz exhibited “extraordinary and significant medical and behavioral issues.”

By 12 years old, he was taking Risperdal, an anti-psychotic drug to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, his father said in court records. He often missed school and resisted treatment, sometimes curling into a ball. His father said the boy would appear to be “looking right through you.”

In April 2006, he locked himself in his mother’s Volkswagen Jetta to avoid an appointment with a therapist, according to court records.

A raft of psychologists and counselors offered various opinions on his behavior over the years. In court records, one therapist described 12-year-old David Katz as suffering a “psychiatric crisis.” The therapist concluded in 2006 that the boy’s depression interfered with his ability to eat, sleep and rise from bed.

David Katz attended Glenelg Country School from grades 6 through 8. He was hospitalized at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Towson for psychiatric treatment in 2007, his parents said in court records.

During his teenage years, the boy was in the custody of his mother. Court records show they had a fraught relationship. She called the police on him in February 2009, his father said in court records. The court record includes a transcript of the 911 call.

“He’s sitting here wrestling me with the cable cord to the TV. I’ve had enough with this child. He has been abusive for over two years,” his mother told the dispatcher.

Four months later, the son called police on his mother, according to a transcript of the call.

“Well I was trying to watch TV and she came in and tried to cut the cord because she thought I wasn’t being fair to my brother or something,” he told the dispatcher. “Then I just like stood in her way and then she just came in with like scissors and I took the scissors and then she came with a knife.”

On his 16th birthday, he wrote a Howard County judge asking to stay with his father.

He graduated from Hammond High School in 2011. He enrolled at the University of Maryland in September 2014 and majored in environmental science and technology, a university spokeswoman said. He did not live on campus. He was not enrolled this semester, President Wallace Loh said.

Natalie Gill, a former teaching assistant and graduate student at the university, said Katz struggled and kept to himself during her class in fall 2015. She said the picture of him online with a blank expression — not smiling — was how he often appeared.

“I knew the other students very well, but he did not open up the same way as the others did,” said Gill, 27. “I pulled him aside and asked if there was anything I could do to help, and he basically had no reaction.”

Gill says Katz had a hard time keeping up with assignments, but he thanked her at the end of the semester for “being a good T.A.”

“I thought, ‘maybe I did have a little relationship with him after all,’ she said.

Meanwhile, players in the online gaming community say Katz had competed under the nickname “RavensChamp” and “Bread.” He had won several tournaments and boasted of his skill in an interview posted to YouTube.

In one video online, a tournament announcer introduces Katz by noting his intense focus and standoffish attitude. “David Katz keeps to himself. He’s a man of business. … He’s not here to make friends.”

Chito Peppler says the Baltimore gaming community is shaken by the shooting, though it occurred hundreds of miles away. Peppler didn’t know Katz well — he, too, didn’t get the sense Katz was sociable — but he said the young man would occasionally attend a weekly game night at a sports bar near M&T Bank Stadium.

“There should never be a fear of someone taking our lives because of video games,” Peppler said.

The weekly players plan to come together for their regular gathering this week, which will include a Mario Party tournament. Some said it may be more somber than usual this time.

“I wasn’t super surprised that there was another shooting,” said Shalini Randall, of Baltimore. “I was surprised it was in the gaming community. There can be some aggression online, but when people come together for tournaments like this, it’s in the name of fun.”

A decade before the shooting Sunday, a psychologist was asked in court if he believed David Katz could turn violent.

“There is the potential that David could lash out and become so angry that he would hit and hurt his mother,” Dr. Paul Berman told the court.

But could Katz harm anyone else, an attorney asked.

“No, I think Mom would be the target if David did lash out,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this story.

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