The price of mental illness?

Posted on 26 Feb 2016 at 7:50am

Cedar Creek area gay man killed after standoff with police

Bertoni's-house

Anthony Bertoni lived in a run-down house surrounded by an eight-foot chain link fence. Signs of his mental illness were obvious in his notes he taped all over his car. (Photos by David Webb)

David WebbCEDAR CREEK LAKE — A standoff between a 56-year-old gay man and law enforcement officers ended in the man’s death Feb. 10, revealing how the isolation and disregard of a deeply disturbed individual can end tragically and endanger an entire community.

Anthony Bertoni, 56, lived in a small house surrounded by an eight-foot chain link fence on the county line between Henderson and Kaufman counties, on SH 274 near Cedar Creek Lake. He was a gay man suffering from an illness that resembled schizophrenia, according to an acquaintance, who knew him for several years.

Bertoni often complained about being the victim of anti-gay harassment, but the woman said she never witnessed nor saw any evidence of the harassment.

In truth, Bertoni may have imagined the harassment. He suspected his neighbors of throwing rocks at his house and other offensive actions, and Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt said law enforcement officers responded to disturbances at the small row of houses numerous times over the years to calm down quarrels between Bertoni and his neighbors.

On his car parked outside of the fence in front of his house, Bertoni posted signs saying, “Murder” and “Suicide,” along with rambling, nonsensical letters.

Finally, the quarrels erupted in violence when Bertoni fired a shotgun at one of his neighbors about 7 a.m. on the day of his death. A pellet struck the victim in the face and several others pellets injured his arm. A helicopter transferred the man to Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, where he was treated and released.

Law enforcement officers quickly descended on the scene, and a standoff ensued as personnel from both Henderson and Kaufman Counties and the Texas Department of Public Safety shut down traffic in the neighborhood known as Cap City. Bertoni fired several shots as the standoff began, then at about 3:30 p.m. he opened the door of the house and fired more shots.

That’s when a sniper on the roof of the Calvary Baptist Church across the highway shot and killed Bertoni.

A few days before the standoff, Bertoni visited a nearby store and complained to a clerk about being unable to sleep. Yet another neighbor who called emergency services after the initial shooting on Feb. 10 said Bertoni had quit taking medication that she suspected was designed to control his mental disturbances.
The acquaintance, to whom Bertoni had confided his sexual orientation, said he came to the Cedar Creek Lake area from California several years ago. Public records show he lived in Palm Springs and San Diego previously.

Bertoni's-carCedar Creek Lake has a large LGBT community, and Bertoni engaged in a couple of relationships with other men, the acquaintance said. But in the last couple of years, he professed to be asexual and kept to himself, she said.

Bertoni originally planned to open a business styling hair at his home on the highway, but he abandoned the plan and sold his equipment. He was estranged from his adoptive parents, who had rejected him after learning about his sexual orientation, the acquaintance said.

By the time the shooting started on Feb. 10, the woman had already severed contact with Bertoni because his obvious mental illness led him to paranoid delusions, she said. The woman said he accused her and her daughter of stealing his belongings, but later wrote them a long letter saying he found the missing items and apologizing for the accusations.

Bertoni suffered from a multitude of physical illnesses, and the woman said she suspected he might be HIV-positive.

In the wake of the standoff and the shutdown of SH 274 and CR 4044 that lasted for more than 24 hours, forcing traffic to detour on backroads, the quiet community remains stunned. Residents shuttered themselves inside their homes during the standoff and until after the numerous squad cars and investigators left the scene the following afternoon.

Bertoni’s car remains parked in front of the house where he died. The chain link fence lies on the side of the yard where an armored vehicle shoved it aside to allow law enforcement officers to get close enough to engage Bertoni.
Except for his immediate neighbors, no one in the small community knew Bertoni, and he seemed to not be well known in the LGBT community on Cedar Creek Lake.

At this point, with Bertoni dead and no one around who was close enough to really know much about him and his mental state, no one can say if an intervention might have saved his life and spared the community from the trauma of the standoff and shootings. But there is no doubt that doing nothing left the man’s downward spiral unchecked, and put him on a collision course with the community around him.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2016.

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