Mike McNeill

Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of magnoliareporter.com.

A convergence of local and statewide news events provides an opening to address the mental health evaluation and treatment crisis in Arkansas. We reported during the weekend the case of a former Magnolian who made a Facebook post in which he said that he’d killed his family and planned to kill himself. He did neither, fortunately, but he was taken into custody by Miller County authorities. Elsewhere in Arkansas on Monday, a Franklin County deputy answered a report about a burglary at a rural home near Ozark at 1 a.m. The deputy shot and killed the suspect who charged the officer while wielding a baseball bat. Later in the morning, at Watson Chapel Junior High School near Pine Bluff, one 15-year-old youth shot and seriously wounded another 15-year-old inside a crowded school hallway. The situation became greatly confused due to an erroneous report – first made by law enforcement and then retracted – that the wounded youth had died. All three of these incidents are certainly criminal behavior – creating a public alarm, attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault on a school campus. But more than that, each case is a separate mental health breakdown that all of us clearly recognize as such. A person who fantasies on Facebook about killing his family, or who unwisely confronts an armed and trained deputy with a baseball bat, or who guns down another student in a school hallway, had issues boiling within them long before this past weekend. Now, two of these people are in jail, and the third is dead. And these incidents hardly scratch the surface of what law enforcement across the nation faces during a typical day. Before lawmen corrected the erroneous information that the Watson Chapel youth had died, Gov. Asa Hutchinson sent the following email. While the victim did not die, the governor’s remarks about the future of both the shooter and the victim largely stand. “This terrible act of violence has deprived a young man of his future and his parents of their dreams for their son. We must redouble our efforts to ensure that our children are safe at school. I encourage you to comfort your children in the coming days as we try to make sense of this,” the governor said. Among the things we have difficulty processing is that everyone – families of perpetrators and victims, law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, legislators and other elected officials, the media, the general public – all of us recognize that Arkansas doesn’t put enough financial resources into screening for mental illnesses and getting troubled individuals help they need on a timely basis. We know that in the Magnolia native’s case, he had been the focus of involuntary commitment proceedings last year. We don’t yet know much about the circumstances of the Watson Chapel case – whether this was a response to perceived bullying, gang activity, or what. The governor and the legislature, and all Arkansans, must come to accept that we’re failing our residents who suffer from mental illnesses through a lack of school, business and court-based screening and counseling, and then to provide adequate treatment. People who are having mental health episodes shouldn’t languish in jails for days or weeks while the state sorts things out. They need help now, today. More to the point, they needed assistance months or years ago. A good first step – an Arkansas General Assembly that puts as much energy into this problem as some of the contrived issues with which it has chosen to deal lately. Some reasonable actions for the legislature: Ensure that every school district has adequate mental health evaluation and treatment resources available. Ensure that all county sheriff’s offices, and most police departments, have officers with advanced training in the recognition and response to people having mental health episodes. Make sure that local prosecutors and judges have space immediately available at mental health treatment facilities across the state to which sick individuals can be transferred.

Did you see something unusual in the sky last Wednesday, about 8:17 p.m.? Skywatchers are trying to track down evidence or pieces of a meteorite that may have broken up above South Arkansas or North Louisiana about that time. That’s when people reported a fireball in the region. You may want to check home security or vehicle cameras that were recording at the time. Skywatcher Steve Arnold of Eureka Springs hopes people who saw the flash, or who have video, contact the American Meteor Society at amsmeteors.org.

Mid February’s extreme cold has significantly knocked back, but not completely eradicated, the invasive giant salvinia plant from lakes Columbia and Erling. As our story on Monday points out, boaters and fishermen can help keep giant salvinia at bay by following the simple precaution to drain and clean their boats after leaving these and other area waterways. Herbicides and Mother Nature can do a lot, but it requires the active and intelligent participation by lake users to bring this plant plague under control. CLICK HERE to see Becky Bell’s story from Monday.

We can’t provide you with a direct link for legal reasons, but we can tell you that on Monday, the website HealthAffairs.org published an article by Rob Waters headlined, “The Big Idea Behind a New Model of Small Nursing Homes.” Much of the focus of the article was on the Green House Cottages of Wentworth Place. Waters goes into how Wentworth Place and nursing homes that operate in a similar manner have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic.

We can’t provide you with a direct link for legal reasons, but we can tell you that on Monday, the Reuters news service published an article by Laura Sanicola headlined, “CVR Energy Questions Compensation of Delek Chief Executive.” It’s the latest in the battle between activist investor Carl Icahn and his CVR Energy versus Delek, in which CVR holds a stake. Delek operates a refinery in El Dorado among its holdings.

Another 0.67 inches of rain overnight, raising the March total to 2.64 inches. This March is looking good to be the wettest March since 2016.

Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of magnoliareporter.com. Email him at news@magnoliareporter.com or call him at 870-904-3865.

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