Health & Medicine

July 4, 2012

Dad feels anguish, disbelief with daughter, 19, missing over a week

One afternoon this week, a haggard-looking Craig Lomax sat in an uncomfortably chilly corner of a Sacramento-area fire station and wondered aloud: How did it come to this?

One afternoon this week, a haggard-looking Craig Lomax sat in an uncomfortably chilly corner of a Sacramento-area fire station and wondered aloud: How did it come to this?

It was 4 p.m., and his 19-year-old daughter, Linnea, had been missing for seven days, after she walked away from a mental health facility and went into hiding. And it was hell.

"I never knew my daughter could go from being a happy college student – a stressed but happy college student – in May to being in the streets in June," Lomax said.

Since the UC Davis freshman was reported missing June 26, her father – like many of the friends, relatives and volunteers looking for her – has felt a range of emotions.

"I'm fairly numb, because this is so ridiculous," said Lomax, 46, a Placerville resident who has been staying in Sacramento motels while the search for his daughter continues. "To take someone like Linnea and put her on the streets eating out of garbage cans it's so unrealistic, it can't even be real."

The search began the afternoon of June 26, when Craig and his wife, Marianne, went to pick up Linnea from an outpatient facility on Howe Avenue, only to find she had apparently left earlier that day.

According to her parents, the teen suffered a breakdown while studying for finals at the University of California, Davis.

During 10 days of inpatient therapy, they said, she disagreed with doctors' initial diagnoses of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders and refused some of the medications they prescribed. Hours into her first day of outpatient counseling, she disappeared. She was last spotted Monday morning near Howe Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard.

As the search continues, Craig Lomax worries what will happen when they do finally find Linnea. Will she qualify for a "5150" hold – a temporary but involuntary committal? Will her thoughts on her mental health and options for treatment have changed?

And the most terrifying question for him: Will she again exert her rights as an adult, rebuke her parents and walk back into the streets?

His sense of powerlessness is often shared by families of the mentally ill, who can find themselves trying to help a loved one who doesn't want their aid, said Bettie Reinhardt, acting executive director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness' California division.

"It's a major issue, and it's one that we try to help families live with," Reinhardt said. "We try to help families understand what they can and what they cannot do, and we try to help individuals learn how much families can help."

Friends and family describe Linnea Lomax as a smart, caring and driven young woman. One friend called her a "sunflower," another "vibrant."

"She shines throughout," said childhood friend Paris Coyne, 18.

Craig Lomax said his eldest daughter is an incredibly hard worker who has always strived to be the best in every aspect of her life: school, sports, faith, volunteer work.

But he believes it was that same drive that might have pushed her to a dark place. In retrospect, he wishes he had tempered her "passion to be perfect."

"God created that beautiful thing in her," Craig Lomax said. "We all have strong gifts that are also our greatest weakness if you can't harness that and redirect that energy."

Looking back at recent months, Craig Lomax said he can see warning signs he and his wife largely dismissed. Linnea seemed obsessed with a knee injury that derailed her workouts and threatened her ability to work this summer at the Christian adventure camp owned by her parents. She felt a few jobs that didn't work out were signs of failure.

She began rapidly losing weight – she lost 20 pounds from her 115-pound frame – and appeared dehydrated, he said.

Her friends also noticed something amiss. Coyne, who said she used Skype to keep up with Linnea while she was in Davis, said her friend "completely dropped off the map."

The climax came a few weeks ago, when Linnea's worried parents showed up at her dorm room to find her in what Craig Lomax described as a "terrible, terrible state" – literally pulling out her hair, a bottle of ibuprofen open, a suicide-related website on her computer screen.

Her parents and a nurse persuaded her to admit herself to a mental health facility, but she remained steadfast that she did not have a problem and did not need all the medications they were recommending, her father said.

Now that she is on the streets – without a wallet or cellphone – her family worries that she is evading rescuers because she does not want to go back to a facility.

More than 750 volunteers have come to their aid in the last week. Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District's Station 106 in Arden Arcade has become a command post for rescue efforts, orchestrated in part by a family friend who is a firefighter familiar with how authorities organize such operations.

There are maps, flow charts, teams assigned to geographical grids and even name tags. On Monday, as the room buzzed with activity, a toddler cousin slept in a playpen and a volunteer tended to stacks of cooling pizza and soggy sub sandwiches.

Volunteers briefly circulated an emotional YouTube video and have set up a Facebook page. They have organized two vigils.

Their efforts have been applauded by the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, which does not have the resources to actively search for her, said sheriff's Deputy Jason Ramos.

He said deputies have responded to at least a dozen reported sightings – some of which were believed to be Linnea – but the department's involvement ends there.

Craig Lomax is heartsick over his daughter's disappearance. But he doesn't think the struggle will end when she is found, and he hopes this case can expose flaws in a system he feels failed his family.

"I don't totally disagree with the laws, but there needs to be some kind of system for (cases like this)," he said. "It missed Linnea on the first round."

Reinhardt, of NAMI California, said current laws protecting the rights of the mentally ill were enacted in the 1960s, aiming to make the qualifications for involuntary commitment less subjective.

But she said the possibility of future legislation changing those laws remains.

"That's something to watch, because there will always be people debating that," she said.

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