Mother of man that caused college evacuation and lockdown in West Flemish town has “no idea what got into him”

The mother of an 18-year-old man that put a West Flemish town into lockdown on Thursday afternoon has told VRT Radio 2 West Flanders that her son has suffered with mental health issues for some time. She added that she has no idea what go into him. The woman stressed that she has sought help for her son several times, but to no avail. In an interview with VRT Radio 1’s ‘De ochtend’ the youth criminologist Yana Jaspers says that the abrupt end of assistance with mental issues for minors once a young person has reached the age of 18 has long been an issue. 

On Thursday evening the 18-year-old was questioned by the police. The Judicial Authorities have requested that the Examining Magistrate assigned to his case remands him in custody. The motivation for this request is that the 18-year-old was armed and that he allegedly distributed false information stating that he was going to carry out an attack. The Examining Magistrate will also have to decide when the young man will appear in court.

In an interview with VRT Radio 2 the young man’s mother said that for his family a tumultuous started when they received a telephone call from the police. The police asked if they knew where the young man was.

"I didn’t know where he was. He doesn’t live here anymore. We made him leave because things had become very difficult. He had been with his grandmother for the past three weeks, but there too things had gone very badly. For the first time she had told him ‘No, you’re not coming back here again tonight’. In one sense I had seen this coming. They only told me that my son was walking around Kortrijk under the influence”.

It remains unclear why the 18-year-old decided to walk the streets with an airsoft weapon, a perfect replica of a real gun. His mother told the VRT that he has long needed psychological help. “I have absolutely no idea why he has done this. I know that he uses cannabis, so he was probably under the influence. We don’t have any guns in the house. He certainly didn’t get it from anyone in the family. I don’t know what got into him." 

"It all started with small things like bicycle thefts and vandalism. Then we were in contact with the juvenile magistrate, and he spent time in a secure young offenders centre”.

The 18-year-old’s mother added that she has tried several times to get him emergency psychiatric help but was told that nothing could be done unless he was to request help himself. 

“A well-known problem” says criminal psychologist

The youth criminology professor Yana Jaspers told VRT News that the abrupt end to psychiatric help for young people with mental health issues once they reach 18 has long given cause for concern.

Furthermore, Professor Jaspers says that there is an acute shortage of provision and that this has been made worse by the coronavirus crisis. 

"Once they reach 18 young people are told where they will need to go to get help. However, it is left to them to make the first step, and many don’t."

Research has shown that youngsters with mental health issues more often cite the abrupt end to the help they had been receiving while they were still minor as the catalyst for their downward spiral than them having been put into an institution in the past. 

Although recent reforms to the youth justice system give provision for young people to remain in facilities for minors with mental health issues until they are 23 (and until the age of 25 in exceptional circumstances) a lack of capacity means that this is virtually never done. 

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