To his grandparents and mother, 23-year-old Rodney Carr was smart.
For the past two years, Carr was blazing his way through the ITT Technical Institute in Torrance, studying to become a systems administrator. The bright student with a perfect 4.0 was set to graduate in March. Carr was so bright in fact, that he assisted his teachers in instructing the class. But most of his life, Carr had suffered from mental instability. Diagnosed as hyperactive at age 12, Carr was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic last June.
Whenever Carr exhibited strange behavior, his grandparents, Lonnie and Bobby Goodwin, shrugged it off, attributing his mood swings to an “anger” problem. “They did not take him to the doctor at all,” recalls Terri Green, his mother, who said that Carr was diagnosed as a manic depressive at the age of 18.
“Rodney would tell me he was hearing voices. He said that someone was trying to kill him,” recalls Green, a real estate broker who lives in Palmdale, Calif. “He would pace up and down, back and forth, and punch holes in doors.”
Most of the time, Carr would be holed up in his bedroom where he would compose music on his computer. “He liked hip hop music,” his mother recalls. “He liked the rapper Tupac. He would be on the computer writing hip hop music for hours and hours.”
Little did his relatives know that in the past few months, Rodney had stopped taking his medication–Risperal, a psychiatric drug. They were also not aware that Rodney had been taking methamphetamines.
It was early on the morning of August 15 when neighbors noticed Rodney in their yard. “He was walking around in the neighbor’s backyard and he was yelling and screaming,” recalls Green. “They came out to talk to Rodney but he looked so crazy and deranged, they became afraid. They said he was yelling, ‘You guys are not going to get me!’ The neighbor looked around to see who he was talking to, but there was no one around. Then he started yelling, ‘Get away from me!’ They said Rodney’s eyes were glazed over and he looked really scary. The neighbors went back inside the house and locked the door.”
Concerned, Lonnie Goodwin called 911 and five police cars converged on the scene. Rodney was very compliant when the police came. He was handcuffed and placed in the back of the police car. “They said they were taking him in for a psychiatric evaluation,” recalls Green.
But 20 minutes later, Rodney’s grandparents were surprised when Rodney returned to their front door. The police had released him after asking him three questions meant to gauge his mental health–was he a threat to himself, was he a threat to others, and could he take care of himself. After answering ‘No’ to the first two questions and ‘Yes’ to the final one, the police said he was free to go.
“They just let him out of the car,” recalled his mother.
Green said that although her parents were concerned, they let Rodney back into the house. “My mother is old school. She thought that if the police release someone, everything must be okay, so she opened the door and let him in.”
Goodwin and several friends had just returned from a cruise and were unpacking their belongings when Rodney bounded up the stairs. “He began to pace up and down the hall,” said Green. “He started yelling for the women to shut up because he could not hear the voices in his head. There are three bedrooms upstairs, and Rodney would just barrel from one bedroom to the other, yelling, “Shut up!” at the top of his lungs.
The women began crying and shaking.
In a fit of rage, Rodney then punched three huge holes in the bathroom door.
Goodwin was also concerned because Rodney did not take his hands out of his pockets and she did not know whether he was hiding a weapon.
Green, who was visiting a cousin in Nebraska, got a frantic call from her mother begging her to come home. “Rodney has lost his mind,” Green recalls her mother saying.
A shaken Goodwin sneaked downstairs where she hid in the closet and called 911. When the police got to her house, Goodwin let them in. Neighbors told police that Rodney had been acting ‘crazy’ for at least two weeks.
“The police said that they were going to take him on a 5150–that’s a code for someone who poses a danger to themselves or others,” recalls Green.
But hours later, police from the Harbor Division drove Rodney to Hollywood and released him. Goodwin and Green suspect that the police did not send Rodney to the hospital because he did not have medical insurance.
Several hours later, police called Goodwin and said that they had gotten a disturbance call. “The police told my mom that they had her grandson, Rodney, and that he had chased some people off the playground in Hollywood. They said that there was nothing they could do and that they had to let Rodney back out on the street. They could only hold him if he hurt somebody.”
The next day, August 16, Goodwin was surprised to see Rodney standing on the steps of her beauty salon in Inglewood in the early morning hours. “We were trying to figure out how he got to the salon,” recalls Green. “He looked crazy, dirty, and deranged and he was scaring the customers. My mom called me and said, ‘Please come and help Rodney. I’m trying to get him into the hospital but the police won’t take him.’ I called Hollywood Hospital in San Bernardino,” recalls Green. “They said they would take him in, but it had to be a voluntary admission.”
Green said she rented a car and she and her daughter immediately headed for Los Angeles.
“My mom called my dad to pick Rodney up and take him back to the house,” recalls Green. “She wanted him to take a shower. They knew that I was on my way to take him to the hospital.”
Bobby Goodwin picked Rodney up at the beauty salon and drove him back to the house.
“At 5 p.m., my dad called my mom at the shop and asked what time she was coming home because Rodney was acting strangely, pacing up and down the hallway. He told my mother, ‘Rodney looks really bad,” Green recalls.
Lonnie Goodwin told her husband she was finishing up with her last customer and would be home within the hour.
An evangelist minister, Goodwin sensed something was wrong when she arrived home. “The Holy Spirit told my mother not to go through the front door but to go through the garage,” Green recalls her mother saying.
Goodwin stood by her car and hit the automatic garage door button. As the door slowly rose, she was confronted with a horrible sight.
There was her husband on the floor of the garage lying in a pool of blood. As the garage door continued to rise, Goodwin was stunned to see Rodney’s pants legs as he stood motionless over the body. Horrified, she saw that Rodney’s shirt was also smeared with her husband’s blood.
In a state of shock, Goodwin took off running down the street. When she got far enough away, she looked back at the garage door.
She saw Rodney calmly pushing the garage door button closed.
It took at least 45 minutes to an hour before police arrived. “They showed up with guns drawn and asked Rodney to come out,” recalls Green.
Calm and composed, Rodney walked out of the garage as if nothing had happened. Helicopters arrived and whirred overhead. “There were so many police cars, you couldn’t get on the street,” said Green.
When police entered the garage, they met a grisly sight. Bobby Goodwin’s head was missing–it had been severed from his body. Several bloody kitchen knives were found lying near the body–at least seven–that Rodney had used to cut his grandfather’s head off. “I don’t know where they found my grandfather’s head,” said Green.
When the family was finally allowed to return to the house, they were met with a strange sight–all of the crosses on the refrigerator door had been turned upside down.
Rodney was taken to the 77th Police Precinct in Los Angeles. “Then they took him to the Twin Towers jail downtown and placed him in the psychiatric ward. “I went down to see Rodney,” said Green. “He was in such a crazy state of mind, he couldn’t hold a conversation. He said the voices were listening to his conversation and he could only say what they wanted him to say.”
Green puzzled over the police report to try to piece together what occurred in the minutes before Rodney killed her father. “In the report, all Rodney remembers is that he and my dad had an argument and then Rodney said he just blacked out,” said Green.
Shattered by the turn of events, Lonnie Goodwin has not been able to speak publicly about the tragic incident since it occurred. “She’s overwhelmed by what has happened. She’s crying a lot,” said Green.
For Green, the death of her father and her son’s mental illness and incarceration has spurred her into activism. She has made it her goal is to get the message out to the African American community that mental illness must be exposed. “Mental illness is a quiet secret in our community,” observed Green. “One of our problems in the black community is that we’re not educated about mental illness. Our churches, our schools, and our communities don’t talk about it.
“I would not like this to happen to another family,” said Green, who added that her son is currently awaiting trial for murder and undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
Shortly after her son was taken into custody, Green joined the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). “We’ve started a justice committee to teach police how to respond to those people who are mentally disturbed,” said Green. She wants to help other families who are attempting to deal with mentally ill relatives and improve how their cases are handled by police and the justice system. “We’re actually trying to start a division to address the mentally ill in each of the superior courts,” said Green. “We want the police and the courts to have a psychiatric evaluation team available when they get 5150 or psychiatric calls.”
Pausing, Green said, “There’s been all this talk about dropping off the mentally ill on Skid Row, but what about police who drop off the mentally ill in the streets? Something has to be done.”