Iraq War vet sought mental-health help before fatal encounter with police

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Issac Sims left Iraq alive, but not unscathed.

The lingering effects of a serious head injury and the emotional trauma wrought by the sights and sounds of war never left him.

On Sunday, with the demons of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder roiling his mind, Sims grabbed a rifle and started firing off shots in and outside his family’s modest home on Kansas City’s east side.

His neighbor and friend, Rick Jackson, begged the former paratrooper to put down the weapon. Sims wouldn’t do it. Jackson said his friend’s mind just seemed to be somewhere else. Sims hugged Jackson. When Jackson stepped outside, Kansas City police officers had arrived and were pointing guns directly at him.

“Don’t shoot me,” Jackson yelled, holding his hands in the air.

Officers hustled Jackson and others on the block away to a safe place.

According to police reports, the first officers were sent on a report of a disturbance involving an “emotionally disturbed person.” The officers heard shots being fired inside the home, and a witness told them that Sims had pointed the rifle at his father and fired a shot toward the witness with a handgun. Sims’ father reportedly told the officers that Sims had pointed the weapon at the ground..

Officers summoned tactical teams to surround the area. After a standoff of about five hours, police said, Sims emerged and pointed the rifle at officers. They fired.

And Sims was dead at the age of 26.

“All he needed was help,” Jackson said Wednesday. “He didn’t need to die.”

That help in the form of bed space at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center was about 30 days away, according to his family.

That’s how long Adrian and Patricia Sims said they were told last week it would be until the facility had room for their son.

Officials at the VA hospital in Kansas City released a written statement about the situation:

“We are aware of this tragic situation and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family at this very difficult time. We are unable to comment on an ongoing police investigation or on care provided to a particular veteran. However, we want to encourage any veteran (or their family member) who has questions or concerns about the attention or services they are receiving to contact the Kansas City VA Medical Center Director’s Office.”

Patricia Sims said the treatment was ordered as part of her son’s probation through the Kansas City Municipal Court Veterans Treatment Court program. Court officials said he pleaded guilty April 30 to domestic assault and was placed on probation for two years.

The program, which began in 2009 as a partnership with the Veterans Affairs Department, is geared to helping veterans who enter the criminal justice system.

Patricia Sims said she thought it was a “great” program, and praised the court’s judge, Ardie Bland.

“We are saddened by such a tragic loss,” Bland said in a written statement. “Our hearts must now go out to the family of Mr. Sims with our prayers and support.”

Efforts such as Kansas City’s veterans court have sprung up across the country in recent years in recognition of the special issues and struggles faced by men and women returning from war.

And because police officers often are called to deal with volatile situations involving troubled veterans, the U.S. Department of Justice instituted a training program to help law enforcement officers learn the skills to defuse such situations.

When police first arrived at his house on Sunday, Adrian Sims said he informed them that his son suffered from PTSD. He said he told them, “Don’t shoot my son.”

He said that like other family members and neighbors, he was moved away from the area. He did not see what happened.

Also an Army combat veteran, Adrian Sims served multiple tours in Vietnam. His father served as a medical corpsman with the U.S. Marines in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Being a soldier was what Issac Sims always wanted to do, his father said.

And according to some of the men who served with him in the 82nd Airborne Division, he excelled at it.

“He was a hell of a soldier,” said Evan Aitkens, who was with Sims during his second tour in Iraq during 2009 and 2010.

First Sgt. Jonay Medina was Sims’ first platoon sergeant when he arrived in Iraq for his first tour of duty in January 2008.

“He was only 18 and straight out of basic training,” Medina said.

But Sims quickly established himself as a top soldier.

“I would tell people if you want to look like a soldier, look at Sims,” he said.

Zachary Murray called Sims, who later became a sergeant, an outstanding leader. Although he was small in stature, he was strong and fast.

“That little guy could run like the wind,” he said.

Charlie Kim said that besides his dependability and strong work ethic, Sims was a genuinely good person.

“Sims was always laughing or smiling,” Kim said. “The goofy moments that we had together are some of my most cherished memories.”

Aitkens said Sims was the last person he would expect to have the kind of emotional breakdown that appeared to overtake him.

“With some guys you would say you could understand it,” he said. “With Issac, that’s shocking.”

He and his comrades said they don’t want Sims remembered as “some crazy guy who got shot by the police.”

“He served his country honorably,” Aitkens said. “There’s got to be a better way to honor his memory.”

Bland, in his written statement, said the veterans’ court will continue its efforts in Sims’ honor “and in honor of the others that have served this country.”

“We hope that with our work we will be able to stop tragedies such as this before they happen,” he said.

Patricia Sims said that she hopes her son’s death shines a light on issues surrounding veterans and mental illness.

“Things should be done better, done different,” she said. “From the first call to 911 to the last call to the ME.”

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