A Vermont mother held in a hospital psychiatric ward against her will for more than five weeks was to be “released immediately” a Superior Court judge ordered yesterday. Christina Schumacher was admitted to Fletcher Allen Health Care on December 19 for “involuntary treatment” after her estranged husband had strangled their son and then hanged himself.
The court case was initiated by a local Burlington newspaper after Mrs. Schumacher, 48, made contact on December 30, asking them to investigate. Apart from desperately wanting to be released, she told reporters she wanted to ensure that no one else ever had to endure the conditions and treatment she had suffered in the psychiatric ward. Ironically it emerged that she previously worked for IDX and GE Healthcare for more than two decades.
Christina Schumacher’s nightmare appears to have begun in July last year when she applied for an abuse order against her estranged husband, Ludwig “Sonny” Schumacher, once part of the Vermont National Guard. He is understood to have violated the order that same month. In August Mrs. Schumacher reported a “suspicious van” outside her house, and told police that Sonny had threatened her safety. In October policemen were present at her home when he removed his personal effects from the house. Officers reported that Mrs. Schumacher appeared to be “nervous” at the time.
It is understood that she and their 17-year-old daughter turned down a dinner invitation from him for December 17 in his apartment. That day she called the Burlington police department to say she was concerned for the safety of her teenage son, Gunnar. In an affidavit, police detective Lt. George Murtie relayed that she was afraid Sonny would skip the country with her son, and that she had not spoken to Gunnar for a few days.
Gunnar, who would have turned 15 just before Christmas, was a freshman at Essex High School. According to the school principal, Robert Reardon, Mr. Schumacher left a voice message for him saying that Gunnar was absent because there were “family situations,” but that he would be back on December 19. He never did go back to school.
The bodies of father and son were found in his Essex apartment on December 18, the day before Christina Schumacher was forced into a psychiatric ward and held against her will. It would be a long time after the murder that they would be told to release her. In the meantime, local newspapers continued to report on the case.
According to court documents publicized after his death, Gunnar’s Facebook page was dormant during his absence from school, which his friends maintained was unusual. When his death was announced, an RIP Facebook page was set up in his memory. More than 4,700 of his friends and family have “liked” it.
Aunt Janelle and Cousin Liam have heavy hearts dear Gunnar… watch over your sister up in heaven and know that we will keep your memory alive and hug the ones we love in memory of you. Gone FAR too soon and such a senseless tragedy… I remember your silly smile and the mischief you and Liam would get into… we love you always.
Janelle C. Fitzgerald
Court documents also paint a picture that reveals Sonny Schumacher carefully planned his son’s murder and his own suicide. For instance he sent packets to members of his family and several friends via FedEx shortly before his body was found. Lt. Murtie confirmed that he wanted his own sister, Christine Schumacher to be executor of his estate, and that she had supplied a key to a lock-up unit he had rented.
Police are still searching for the two cell phones that belonged to father and son, and a laptop, so they can piece together the last days and hours before the murder-suicide. The final autopsy reports and toxicology results are still outstanding, and a typed suicide note found at the scene has not yet been made public.
Reports about Mrs. Schumacher’s involuntary admission to the health care psychiatric ward indicate that she visited a doctor for a “regular appointment” on December 19, to be told that if she did not admit herself to health care, she would be “taken into custody.” The reason given was that when she applied for the relief-from-domestic-abuse order in July 2013, her sister, Louise Lynch confirmed she had threatened to kill herself if anything ever happened to her children.
Yesterday Judge Kevin Griffin heard three hours of legal argument relating to an application by the attorney general for Christina Schumacher to be held at the hospital for “involuntary treatment.” The hearing was behind closed doors at the hospital, and the ruling released late afternoon.
Judge Griffin found that there was no “clear and convincing evidence” that Mrs. Schumacher needed further treatment, and denied the application. He also ordered that she be “released immediately” from the psychiatric ward. A spokesman for the hospital was asked to comment on the fact that the hospital had been told to free the woman because she was being held against her will following the murder of her son. Mike Noble would only say that decisions like this were always made “in the best interests of the patient.”
By Penny Swift
Burlington Free Press
Burlington Free Press