My Poor, Deluded, Elderly Neighbor Told The Police We're Trying to Kill Him---and What I've Done About It

At 8:30 a.m. the morning of September 5, 2017, my boyfriend, Mike, woke me and said the police were in my living room and wanted to talk to me. I pulled on some clothes and joined them.

“Your neighbor Tom called us and said Mike aimed a rifle at him out your bedroom window last night,” said one of the officers. “He said three of his neighbors raised $750 to hire a hit man to kill him, and Mike is the hired gun.”

“That poor man,” I said in a low, calm voice. “Tom really shouldn’t be living alone.”

Previous encounters

I’m sure you’re wondering why I was so calm and magnanimous about the whole thing, so let’s back up about a year to an earlier incident involving Tom. He was one of the subjects of my 2016 article: THE DISABLED BRANCH OF THE SENIOR MAFIA LIVES IN MY RETIREMENT COMMUNITY, where a similar situation happened: Tom accused our neighbor, Bonnie, of hiring a hit man to kill him. They shouted at each other and Tom said he had a gun and would shoot her. The police came and confiscated his gun. Eviction proceedings began against Tom but his granddaughter got him a reprieve and here he has remained ever since.

I was glad to hear that Tom could stay; he had always been pleasant to me and Mike. And besides, he had some medical conditions that caused his impaired speech, moodiness, and mental confusion. Live and let live, was my attitude back then.

The legal implications

But my attitude changed that morning in September when I was summoned to my own living room to explain my boyfriend’s criminal activities— activities that were merely a figment of Tom’s imagination.

“I even don’t own a gun,” My boyfriend told the police.

“Are you on parole?” the officer retorted.

“No,” Mike answered. What a cynical question, I thought. The officer seemed to be implying that everybody owns a gun, and if you don’t, you must be on parole since it would be a violation to have one. Gosh, a lot of people go through their whole lives without owning a single firearm. I certainly have.

Questions for law enforcement

Several questions have crowded my mind since then. I’m compiling a list in case I feel inspired to call local law enforcement and ask them, questions such as:

  • When the police confiscated Tom’s gun after he threatened to shoot Bonnie, are they under any obligation to return it to him? (If it’s legally his and therefore his private property.)
  • If police must return a firearm to its owner—who is on record as maintaining the delusion that people are planning to kill him—is it unconstitutional to require a psych evaluation before giving the gun back?

Slipping through the cracks

Background checks are for people buying guns at a store. But what about gun owners that start suffering from dementia or schizophrenia after they already own one? It seems those people can easily slip through the cracks. If they aren’t under the care of a professional, there’s no way to track behavior/mood changes, not to mention their ability to look after themselves. It is the latter situation that troubled me about Tom in the beginning.

My neighbors informed me that they’ve seen Tom’s apartment and observed his inability to operate a microwave, keep himself fed, and hang onto his allowance for food and other expenses. He recently sold his bedroom furniture to a neighbor because he was “moving to Virginia at the end of the week.” Of course he wasn’t moving and promptly asked the neighbor to give back his bedroom furniture which she refused to do. Now he has no bed.

Constant delusions

Tom has been under two constant delusions during the year he’s been living here: 1) that he is moving to Virginia in a week (he tells us that on a weekly basis), and 2) his neighbors hate him and have hired a hit man to kill him. Which of his neighbors changes from time to time, but despite the revolving cast of characters, he maintains the delusion that people want to kill him and have the big bucks to hire an assassin to do it right. The reality is that most of us are struggling on Social Security and some have extra help from the kids and grandkids. It would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

My most informed neighbors say that Tom’s granddaughter has power of attorney. They have only seen her visit him once since he’s been here and the consensus is that she dumped him here because the family doesn’t want to deal with him. This is not unheard of and is the case for many elderly relatives who are hard to get along with and need more care than they get. But that can be a complicated issue. During the last years of his life, my own father could be difficult and often exercised his right to deny care. We can only help our relatives to the extent that they let us.

Concerns about quality of life and safety

As of this writing, I have sent a letter to the site manager, the property management company, and to the State of Michigan Rural Development (which owns the property) describing the September 5th incident along with my concerns for Tom’s quality of life and for my neighbors’ safety.

It’s hard to know the right thing to do when you live very close to your neighbors and share a common space as we do in this small retirement community. We check on each other regularly, some daily to make sure our neighbors are safe and relatively well, and that gives us a sense of comfort and security. But sometimes it just isn’t enough.

The economics of aging

As an aging disabled person that might be facing these issues myself in the future, I’m disturbed to see firsthand how easily poor, elderly, disabled people can languish in a kind of purgatory until they decline to the point where they must go to a nursing home. Sadly, it seems to boil down to economics. The wealthy go to assisted living, the poor go to nursing homes. Likewise, I’ve noticed that my poor neighbors often go without teeth. The poor get dentures (or remain toothless) and the affluent get a mouthful of dental implants. Medicare won’t cover dental work, eyeglasses, and hearing aids—three necessities that are age-related. The rationale is that being deaf, blind and toothless isn't life-threatening.

I’m trying to be a good neighbor. Now I wonder what that is exactly. Tom is once again friendly to me and Mike as though nothing happened. I’m glad of that—but I’m also glad I sent my letter to the property manager and owner. We all want to live in a safe, friendly community. What would you do in my situation?

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