I’m currently in the middle of a custody battle for my son who turns ten this fall. I know that when it comes to custody battles, the State of Washington is not kind to fathers. Or in the words of a local attorney I once talked to, if you’re in a custody battle and you’re the father, ‘it’ll cost a lot of money, take a lot of time, and you’ll lose’. In case you’re not paying attention, being a dad in a custody dispute in this state sucks.
The father of ten-year-old Paul Limstrom knew this. He had been an attorney in Tacoma for many years. He was no stranger to the legal system and was well aware that given the fact he had Bipolar Disorder and was known to have fits of depression, he wasn’t likely to get more than occasional visitation of his son. His ex-wife had recently asked the Pierce County court commissioner to temporarily reduce his visitation due to his instability.
This past weekend was Paul’s last visitation with his father. Sometime during this visit, Paul’s father took him an apartment in the 500 block of South Seventh Street. He then took out a semiautomatic pistol and shot and killed Paul. Then he shot himself. They were both found dead Tuesday after Paul’s mother asked the police to check on them because Paul had missed an appointment and his father had not returned him when he was supposed to.
Paul Limstrom became the ninth homicide this year in Tacoma and one of the most tragic. It may seem that I’m sympathizing with Paul’s killer, but I want to be clear that I am not. I can understand his pain. I can understand his hatred for his ex-wife. Given my life experience, I think I know more than most people what he was going through. However, it’s because of that insight that I can say there is absolutely no excuse for his actions. Like any other child, Paul Limstrom deserved every chance in the world to live a full life without having it cut short. And the two people who should champion this right more than anyone else are his parents.
Bipolar disorder can be a crippling mental illness. I’ve known people who were bi-polar. And when they go off of their medication, they can be extremely unstable. The thing of it is, anyone who has been diagnosed as bipolar knows that they can’t go off of their medication. They also know that the desire to go off the medication is part of the disorder. So regardless of his mental illness, Paul’s father is still responsible for his actions. Unfortunately there are people who will look at this and just think that bi-polar people are unstable. This is not true. There are 2.3 million people in the United States with bipolar disorder and the vast majority of them responsibly control it with medication.
This murder isn’t only a tragedy for Paul’s family, but for parents in post-break-up situations everywhere. It is the last thing any loving parent wants to happen. In any custody battle, a responsible parent looks at what is best for the child before they take into account anything else. This murder saddens and angers me. If the combination of the custody battle and his mental illness were too much for him, Paul’s father should have checked himself in to get treatment or checked himself out with pistol. (I’ve always been a firm believer that you have the right to take your own life.) He had absolutely no right to take his son with him.
Note: You may have noticed I have not mentioned Paul’s killer’s name. Whenever possible I try to avoid naming the murderer. This is because I believe those who commit murder should not be mentioned. Not only to avoid giving them any fame, but also because murderers have families too and while most view a victim’s family with sympathy, there are those who view a killer’s family with unnecessary and undeserved scorn.