SEATTLE -- Phillip Gearson reads a poem.

The phone rings, lives change forever.

It's his way of expressing the loss of his daughter and grandson at the hands of his own son, who suffered frommental illness.

He couldn't get to where he needed to be, until that happened, said Gerson.

In 1990, Phillip's son, Marc, had already struggled for 12 years with schizophrenia. He spent a night in a psychiatric ward. Two days later he set fire to Gearson's home.

When Gearson heard what happened at Cafe Racer on Wednesday, he felt the pain of the victims' families and those who cared for the shooter.

The tragedies will continue to happen and, maybe even more so, because of cuts in funding and programs, said Gearson.

Seattle Union Gospel Mission director Mike Johnson said the problem is twofold.

We really want to respect people's civil rights and the result is that we have people dying out on the streets or dying in coffee shops sometimes, said Johnson.

In King County, only a designated mental health professional can get someone who has not committed a crime involuntarily committed. Even then, the mentally ill can't be held there unless they threaten others or themselves.

Phillip's son is now free after seven years at Western State Hospital. Gearson said treatment was all it took, but it took a tragedy to get him there.

While Western State seemed like the worst of all situations, my family could start healing. Marc could start healing, said Gearson.

Johnson is leading a class called Mental Health First Aid. It's open to anyone who wants to learn how to deal with mentally ill people and what to do if someone is acting out. For more information go to

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