There's some other risk factors that can be involved as well. Lack of supervision is one of them. Also, the family unit at home, whether it's functional or not as functional or dysfunctional. —Renee Valles, child and adolescent psychologist
SALT LAKE CITY — Police and neighbors indicated that a teenage boy who was killed after engaging police officers in a shooting Sunday struggled with mental illness.
It is unclear if mental difficulties played any role in the confrontation 15-year-old Sean Morrison had with police Sunday. But the teen's state of mind and background is a part of the ongoing investigation into the officer-involved shooting.
Renee Valles, child and adolescent psychiatrist with Valley Mental Health, said individual risk factors can range from a previous mental health issue to a child's history with violence. "There's some other risk factors that can be involved as well," Valles said. "Lack of supervision is one of them. Also, the family unit at home, whether it's functional or not as functional or dysfunctional."
Little is known about the teenager's home life, though police said Sunday that the boy's father, Barry Morrison, is in jail. Salt Lake County Jail records show that Barry Sean Morrison was booked Feb. 23 for aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony. He was being held on $250,000 bond.
Court records show that the man is facing 12 felony charges in 3rd District Court, including rape and forcible sodomy, in connection with the abuse of a 17-year-old girl. The alleged incidents began as far back as 1999 and took place at the Magna home Sean Morrison lived in.
Beyond their families, Valles said adolescents are influenced by their peers, which make up what he called a social risk factor. Valles elaborated, saying: "Some type of affiliation with other delinquent kids or adolescents that puts you at risk for violence, aggression."
Still, many children make threats to hurt themselves or others, Valles said, and those are typically harmless. They stop being harmless when they change beyond passing comments.
"What we need to watch out for, we need to look for, is if these threats are becoming more severe in the sense of more organized and more common," Valles said. "And if there is a history of kids following through with these threats."
Morrison reportedly told his mother he was leaving his home Sunday morning to avoid hurting anyone. Police said he made comments to neighbors that he was "bent on violence."
"If somebody shows a pattern or history of violence, whether at school or in the home, and the more they take out these violent acts and the more organized these violent acts become, that's a red flag," Valles said.
Earlier this week, Salt Lake County unveiled a new initiative involving three mental health crisis response teams to help people in distress and keep them from being sent to jail or involuntarily committed in hospitals.
But when the subject is violent or suicidal, supporters of the initiative said it is important to first contact law enforcement. Valles said parents worried about violent tendencies in their own children or who believe their child is a risk to themselves or others should also contact police. He also recommended setting up an appointment with a therapist.
"It would be good for the child to establish a relationship with a therapist so that they're able to talk about things in a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment," Valles said. "This prevention is really important, because the individual working with the child or the adolescent … they'll be able to know if something is different about what they're saying. And they be able to know, more importantly, where it's coming from, to prevent something disastrous that could really happen."
Contributing: Mike Radice