Editor’s note: This story presents a deep dive into not only the killing of a homeless woman Oct. 16 in Downtown DeLand, but the inadequacies in our society and health care system that may be at least partially responsible for suspect and victim alike to have ended up alone on the streets in the early-morning hours.
In the space of a few moments in the early morning of Oct. 16, on the northern edge of vibrant, tourist-centric Downtown DeLand, two lives were shattered.
Christine Ann McCaleb, 67, was dead. Jared M. Shaw, 32, would likely spend the rest of his life in custody.
The DeLand Police Department would characterize the death as a “random violent act” committed by a homeless man on a homeless woman, possibly because he thought the blanket she was sleeping under was his.
The police would also report that Shaw had stabbed himself after fatally stabbing McCaleb, and dripped his blood over several blocks of North Woodland Boulevard as he paced, closing the street for hours, before he came to rest on a bench outside the 7-Eleven, where he flagged down a passing deputy, who arrested him.
But the police reports and news stories overshadowed the truth — that the event might not have been as random as it appeared, and that there are ramifications and responsibilities for all of us in the full stories of the two people involved.
Both McCaleb and Shaw had families living nearby, and close family members who loved them and who had spent years trying to care for them.
On that cool October morning, McCaleb and Shaw fell hard, together, into a gap in society’s efforts to build a safety net for the mentally ill.
Both of them, according to family members, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, an often highly disabling mental-health diagnosis, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Schizophrenia disrupts a person’s thought processes, perceptions and emotional responses.
McCaleb and Shaw were living on the street because of their schizophrenia, family members said. The two of them lived in the gap between being deemed ill enough to lose their freedom, and being well enough to care for themselves.
It’s a place that services available to the mentally ill sometimes cannot reach.
As director of operations for The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, Waylan Niece has witnessed the agency’s efforts to help people with schizophrenia. It’s rough and not always successful, he said, because of the level of intense, constant personal attention required.
Also, he noted, the person with schizophrenia has to be willing to accept the help.
“The paranoid schizophrenic has elevated needs,” Niece said. “They absolutely need more help.”
Caseworkers really help, Niece said, and more of them will be available for people like Shaw and McCaleb, once The Bridge opens.
The Bridge is part of DeLand’s answer to serving the chronically homeless. The $2.1 million facility, which will be operated by The Neighborhood Center, is expected to open in April 2020, adjacent to The Neighborhood Center campus on South Woodland Boulevard. Its $470,000 annual operating budget is being funded by West Volusia cities, churches and individual donors.
In 2007, McCaleb fell into the gap The Bridge is trying to close. Shaw, despite his parents’ tireless efforts, has lived in that gap since leaving home as an adult.
In the days before the stabbing, Shaw had finally been linked to a caseworker who might have made the difference for him.
“He was assigned a caseworker for the first time in all these years,” his mother, Bonnie Shaw, said. “We were beside ourselves. We were telling everyone how fabulous this is.”
But the timing of Jared’s release from jail on an earlier charge would sever the link to the caseworker.
Court records show Shaw had been in jail for 22 days, and was supposed to have been released at 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 11. According to Volusia County Corrections, however, he was not released until Monday evening, Oct. 14.
Volusia County Corrections did not provide an explanation for the delay, despite repeated inquiries from The Beacon.
Bonnie Shaw said the caseworker called their home, looking for Jared. The caseworker had expected to hear from him on the 11th.
Jared Shaw had been released from jail at 5:23 p.m. Oct. 14. Less than 36 hours later, he was charged with first-degree murder.
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There are similarities in the paths Shaw and McCaleb followed, that tragically intersected in the 200 block of North Woodland Boulevard in the early-morning hours of Oct. 16.
McCaleb, according to family members, from 1990 to 2011, had been one of the schizophrenic success stories, who had found help and medication that enabled her to live an independent, normal life for more than 20 years.
McCaleb’s daughter said a caseworker had made all the difference for her mom. But then McCaleb’s connection, too, was severed.
“Remember the fall of our economy? The great recession that began in the late 2000s? Guess who suffers first? Cutbacks were made, and she lost her longtime caseworker, Mary Pluff,” McCaleb’s only daughter, Michelle Walker Arel, wrote in a post on Facebook.
“Not all people with schizophrenia can be medicated, but for her it worked,” Arel said in an interview. “Everything was great. Life was great.”
But mental-health services are among the first cuts from state and local budgets, Arel said.
“That’s the first thing they take away from when the economy tanks,” Arel said in an interview with The Beacon.
After the loss of her caseworker, McCaleb lost her home, and she was hospitalized under the Baker Act numerous times.
“I totally lost count of the number of hospitalizations,” Arel told The Beacon. “A handful of times, she asked for help.”
Every time, after being released, Arel said, her mother struggled to get the follow-up care needed to keep her on her medications and stabilize her condition.
Both families dealt with the same problem — short of having a devoted caseworker, or a legal mechanism that takes away a person’s rights — it’s up to the adult with mental illness to make appointments for care, to keep those appointments, to arrange transportation, obtain medications, and remember to take the drugs.
Bonnie and David Shaw regularly found their adopted son on the streets, made sure he had money, assured that he had a cellphone, did his laundry, bought him food, took him home for showers, and kept tabs on his living conditions. But without a caseworker or long-term involuntary commitment, some decisions were Jared’s alone.
Arel’s Facebook post details the frustration of McCaleb’s family: “I was even told that she would have to be admitted numerous times a year in order for a judge to even consider her incompetent,” she wrote. “But in order to be admitted, she had to do so willingly or be Baker-Acted. Baker-Acting won’t happen unless a person is a threat to others or themselves. And, no, being homeless doesn’t count as harmful to yourself. Even if in your right mind you would never choose to be homeless. She told me all the time that she didn’t choose this.”
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Connecting with services is often a choice.
Services for people with mental illness and who tangle with the court system do exist, according to Jennifer Stephenson, director of outpatient services at SMA Behavioral Healthcare, formerly known as Stewart-Marchman-Act.
Discharge staff at the jail have the number and information about SMA, and provide it to inmates before they leave, Stephenson said.
“Many of them are already our clients, so they’re aware of the process,” she said. “The way anyone accesses our system is, we have an access center, a 24-hour call line, where people are screened and then referred to whatever services they may be in need of.”
In Volusia County, SMA has outpatient clinics in DeLand and Daytona Beach, where staff do psychiatric evaluations and offer medication if needed. SMA also offers counseling, peer support, and case managers.
Following Jared Shaw’s July 5 arrest for walking naked through a CVS drugstore, the court had required him to be evaluated for involuntary outpatient placement.
Volusia County Corrections personnel were directed by the court to take Shaw for that evaluation to the SMA facility next door to the jail on Oct. 10.
After the evaluation, Shaw was ordered to undergo involuntary outpatient placement starting Oct. 11. Apparently, when he didn’t get out of jail on Friday, that didn’t happen.
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Involuntary outpatient placement explained
Florida law does have provisions to deal with the fact that not everyone with a mental illness will voluntarily get help.
The Florida Mental Health Act, popularly known as the Baker Act, has a provision where people can be court-ordered to undergo “involuntary outpatient placement,” instead of the more well-known 72-hour inpatient holds the act is known for, Stevenson explained.
Patients are required to keep in communication with a case manager, attend appointments with mental-health counselors, and take medication as prescribed.
“We also provide outpatient case management to make sure they are attending their appointments,” Stephenson said.
SMA patients in the program can get some limited help with transportation to and from appointments, but it’s based on availability.
“That program does have a case manager who can provide transportation, depending on her schedule,” Stephenson said.
In general, there’s a lack of resources for helping transport patients to and from treatment. Some of SMA’s programs provide patients with bus passes, but Stevenson acknowledged Votran’s limitations.
“We’re a huge county, and it’s not a great system,” she said. “It’s better on the east side than it is on the west side, but still, it can be an all-day affair if you’re in Deltona or DeLeon Springs and you’re trying to get to our office in Daytona Beach.”
The lack of resources isn’t uncommon in most areas of community mental-health treatment, unfortunately.
“There’s always more need than availability for services,” Stephenson said.
The Neighborhood Center’s Niece concurred.
“We need a lot of things. We need a lot of funding in the area. We need funding for caseworkers to work with that mentally ill population. Not just to work with them, but to connect them with services,” Niece said. “Across the board, it really comes down to funding.”
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This is not news to the Shaw or McCaleb families, and there’s little comfort, for them, in having the problem identified.
Jared Shaw remains in the Volusia County Branch Jail, charged with premeditated murder in McCaleb’s death. His arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 16, at the DeLand courthouse.
Shaw’s schizophrenia was exacerbated by fetal-alcohol syndrome, epilepsy and other problems, according to his adoptive mom, that stemmed from his birth to a woman who had been living on the streets, pregnant and with two young daughters, before she connected with the Children’s Home Society and gave up all three children for adoption.
Bonnie and David Shaw were committed to having a large family, but determined not to contribute to the global overpopulation that was so much talked-about in the 1980s.
The Shaws had two biological children, and Jared was one of 10 children they would adopt, concentrating on biracial children and others who wouldn’t easily find homes because of “special-needs” labels, like Jared’s, Bonnie Shaw said.
Jared was 2 weeks old when he joined the Shaw family. Four years later, he would be diagnosed as suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome.
“That was after four years of hell,” Bonnie Shaw said.
Nevertheless, Jared Shaw’s childhood was the best the Shaws could make it.
“He was well-loved by his brothers and sisters,” Bonnie Shaw said. “He was loved and adored, and played with and read to.”
The family is not arguing that anyone other than Jared is responsible for what happened.
“No matter how much Jared maybe could’ve gotten help and didn’t, he did this, and it’s his fault,” Bonnie Shaw said.
Arel said of her mother, “I’m relieved she isn’t suffering anymore. I hold onto that.”
She discovered her mother had a hot meal every day, provided by a local church, and had taken a shower on Oct. 15.
“So on Tuesday she had a shower, she had a hot meal. I take comfort in that,” Arel said.
Telling the full story of her mother’s life is what she can do now to help.
“I told my mom I would never stop fighting for her,” Arel said. “And even when she’s gone, I won’t stop fighting for her.”