SPOKANE, Wash. – Authorities searched by air and land Friday for a criminally insane killer who escaped during a mental hospital field trip to a county fair that has infuriated residents and officials around Washington.
Authorities have said they believe Phillip Arnold Paul is heading to the Sunnyside area, where his parents and many siblings live. The Spokane County Sheriff's Office launched a helicopter on Friday in the search, and the public was urged to call 911 if Paul is spotted.
"He is in a bad mental state," his brother, Tom Paul, told The Associated Press. "Why would they load him on a bus and take him to a fair?"
That's a question many are asking.
Authorities at Eastern State Hospital are being criticized for allowing Paul to visit the fair despite his violent criminal past and history of trying to escape. Spokane County Commissioner Mark Richard has called it unacceptable, and the state Department of Social and Health Services ordered an immediate end to such trips and launched an investigation into the field trip.
Paul was committed after he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1987 slaying of an elderly woman in Sunnyside. He soaked the woman's body in gasoline to throw off search dogs and buried the remains in her flower garden.
"Why was he allowed to take such a trip?" Gov. Chris Gregoire said Friday. "Why did they go to a location that was so heavily populated with families?"
Thirty-one patients from the mental hospital were on the trip with 11 staff members. Patients must be cleared by a treatment team before they can go on trips to stores, parks, ball games, fairs and other sites, said hospital spokesman Jim Stevenson. They wear street clothing and need not all stay together, but staff members are required to keep each patient within eyesight at all times.
Members of an employees union put out a statement saying they had long opposed such field trips.
"They believe he was an extreme escape risk and the administration should never have allowed him on the field trip," the statement from the Washington Federation of State Employees said. "The workers have unsuccessfully fought to stop the outings for murderers, rapists and pedophiles committed to the hospital as criminally insane."
The union said workers alerted superiors "within two to three minutes of discovering Paul's escape." But administrators waited nearly two hours before calling law enforcement. That gave Paul plenty of time to disappear.
A handful of schools in the fairgrounds area were in temporary lockdown on Friday morning, but that was lifted because he is widely believed to be heading to Sunnyside to see his family. Sunnyside is about 200 miles southwest of Spokane.
Paul is a white male, 5-foot-8, 220 pounds, with brownish-gray hair, blue eyes, and a goatee. At the time of his escape, Paul was wearing a red windbreaker jacket, with a T-shirt and jeans.
The sheriff's office said Paul's medication should keep him stable for 14 days, not 48 hours as previously reported.
His brother said Paul was a high school and junior college wrestler and a martial artist who should not be approached.
"I'm a tough guy but I wouldn't take him on," Tom Paul said. "I hope he doesn't hurt anybody."
This was the second escape for Paul. In 1991, he walked away during a day trip in Medical Lake and was later captured. He attacked a sheriff's deputy in the jail booking area, knocking him unconscious, and was convicted of first-degree escape and second-degree assault.
Phillip Paul had a normal childhood in Sunnyside and was popular, but he started acting strangely as a high school student. He said he was hearing voices and thought they were witches, Tom Paul said. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Phillip Paul has been on and off a variety of medications over the years, and also been in and out of institutions, Tom Paul said. He has repeatedly proven unable to live in society, he said.
Paul was living in a halfway house in Spokane last year, but ended up back at the hospital in a very agitated state, Tom Paul said. Hospital officials told authorities that Paul hadn't exhibited violent behavior in years. They argued in the past that he should be released, but his petition for release was rejected in 2003.