To state Sen. Wendy Davis, the firebombing of her Fort Worth district office on Tuesday was a clear sign that something is wrong in Texas.
Targeted by a man who authorities said talked of space aliens and had a history of psychiatric problems, the Democrat ripped into her fellow lawmakers on Wednesday for providing so little funding for mental health care throughout the state.
“These decisions have consequences,” Davis said in an interview with TPM. “Many people are able to look at them just as dollars on a budget line and they forget that there are real people that are affected by them.”
Despite a small increase in spending in recent years, a recent study from the National Alliance of Mental Illness showed that Texas still ranks last in the United States for public mental health spending.
Those consequences go beyond just the people who are sick and need treatment, Davis said. They affect those who have to deal with the fallout from severe and untreated illnesses.
“It is not a good approach to take to completely dry up the resources for people who need that kind of care,” she said.
On Tuesday night, Fort Worth police arrested Cedric Steele, 40, on suspicion of carrying out the attack on the senator’s office. Authorities said the homeless man walked up to Davis’ third-floor office with a paper bag filled with six Molotov cocktails. He then lit the bag on fire, threw it at the front door and ran, according to authorities.
Davis was not in the office at the time, but two of her staffers were. One was able to put out the fire. No one was hurt.
Authorities on Wednesday revealed bizarre details of the days leading up to the attack, signaling that Steele was likely severely mentally ill. It turned out he had visited the office twice in recent days. On one of his visits, police said, he left behind a portion of a dead animal and told the staff “it was a new species” and he wanted Davis to see it.
After his arrest, records show, Steele talked to police about space aliens and told investigators that he was keeping a piece of an alien in the rafters of a vacant building he had been staying in. Upon searching the building, investigators found bottles, lighter fluid and fuses — all the makings of a Molotov cocktail.
The irony is that Steele will probably now get the mental health treatment he needed, Davis said, but only because he has been accused of a serious crime.
“Obviously I’m concerned for him. This is a person who clearly has been and has been in need of some very serious mental health intervention,” she said. “And I’m hopeful that what will come from all of this is that he’ll receive the kind of care that he needs to stabilize again, if that’s possible.”
Davis said both of her staffers were back to work Wednesday but the events of the past 24 hours had taken a toll on all of them. She said counselors were being made available to talk about what happened.
She also said the incident taught her staff that there are better ways to deal with visitors who are clearly unstable. Her office planned to work with the state police to figure out how to better handle those situations in the future.
“We’ve never had an incident in the past,” the senator said. “We’ve always dealt gently and kindly with people and haven’t ever had anything come of it…But we probably need to be more attuned to situations like that.”
Davis said, however, that she has no plans change the issues she cares deeply about, including education and women’s health. She also said she won’t consider restricting who can have access to her office.
“We just won’t do that. We’re in public service,” she said. “I just refuse to have a locked door.”
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com