Evaluation of Salem High hatchet intruder stalled due to mental health facility bed shortage

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jan 05, 2015

Virginia Beach, Va. - He was caught inside a Virginia Beach high school last October, armed with a hatchet. But today, we still don't know if 25-year old Kirk Cowart is competent to stand trial.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Cowart walked into the Virginia Beach courtroom Monday quiet and cooperative.

"I was thrilled to see him," said his father, Rob Cowart. "He looks healthy, he has lost some weight."

It's a complete turnaround from just a few months ago, when NewsChannel 3 interviewed Cowart from jail shortly after he was arrested. In that interview, Cowart rambled and didn't make any sense.

His father says it Kirk the face of mental illness, saying his son became bipolar after serving in the Marines. Rob says he tried to get help from the VA before his son's arrest, but they didn't do anything.

Now, he feels the state isn't helping either as it has taken nearly two months to get a court-ordered mental evaluation for his son.

"I just wish it would move faster," Rob Cowart  said. "Just keeping him incarcerated and locked up is not really helping. It's just postponing what needs to be done."

That's why Cowart's case was continued for the third time Monday. The Commonwealth's Attorney told the judge there wasn't a bed available at the state hospital.

"It's frustrating," Rob Cowart added. "I wish that our government would take a look at the resources that we have and add more to it."

Legislators have been looking into it, as the effectiveness of Virginia's mental health system has taken the spotlight in the last year. The discussion rose after Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds was stabbed several times by his son, Gus Deeds. Gus then killed himself. Gus was released after a mental health evaluation just a week earlier.

Why? There wasn't a psychiatric bed available for him.

Now his father, Senator Creigh Deeds is fighting for reform as Rob is fighting for his son.

"What about the people who are in need, who are hurting, like my son? I think they need to take a look at adding more facilities and make it a short term where the goal is to get these people  out and healthy again," Rob Cowart added.

NewsChannel 3 reached out to a spokesperson with the State Hospital to find out why it is taking so long to get Cowart's court-ordered evaluation completed. A spokesperson did call back and says they are looking into the answer. As for Rob Cowart, he hopes that evaluation is done before his son's next court date scheduled for February.


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Family of Kirk Cowart releases apology and appeal for better mental health care

Bond hearing for hatchet-wielding school trespasser continued until Thursday

Father of man who brought hatchet to Beach school: ‘this is what the face of mental illness looks like’

Man found inside Salem High School with hatchet: ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’