LAST Friday, Oct. 19, as leaves scuttled across Rose Hill Cemetery, black-clad mourners parted as men escorted Beverly Liggett’s plain wooden casket to its premature and shocking end.
Aish Denver’s Rabbi Yaakov Meyer did not mention specifics of the incident that united everyone under the serene October sky. Instead he spoke of doubt, faith, and the woman he described as “very sweet, and very pained.”
“We are destined to die,” he told the mourners. “But in this way? To die under such horrific and troubling conditions is something the human mind can’t comprehend.”
Beverly Liggett’s dismembered body was discovered Oct. 17 in the back seat of an SUV driven by her 24-year-old son Ari that crashed in Greenwood Village following a police pursuit.
On Tuesday, Oct. 23, the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office charged Ari Liggett with murder in the first degree in the death of his mother, who was 56.
The Arapahoe County Coroner’s Office, which conducted an autopsy Thursday, Oct. 18, and positively identified Liggett’s remains, said the exact cause and manner of death require further studies.
Family members reported Oct. 15 that Liggett and her son, who lived together, were missing. Liggett’s daughter Livia, 19, was away at college.
Deputies searchng the Centennial home found a liquid that appeared to be potassium cyanide; traces of human blood in the freezer and bathtub; and a crosscut hand saw and a large kitchen knife in the dishwasher.
At the service, unrestrained weeping filled the air. It was just too tragic, too awful.
Some red eyes avoided the small casket until happier memories replaced sordid images.
It was only when Rabbi Meyer invited family and friends to talk about Beverly Liggett that daughter Livie addressed the question on everyone’s mind.
Steadying herself at the podium and refusing to let waves of grief drown her voice, Livie unburdened herself:
“My brother Ari was mentally ill, as many of you know. He did not receive the help he needed. But my mom would not put him out on the street.”
Her words in no way excused the person implicated in murdering the mother she loved “more than anyone in this world.”
They were an open attempt to explain the inexplicable.
RABBI Meyer, who knew Beverly Liggett for 10 years, says that he occasionally served as her confidant. “She was very sweet, very kind, always smiling,” he tells the IJN.
“I knew there were issues, but we hadn’t spoken for quite a while. The last time I saw her was Yom Kippur.”
Meyers says that Ari never came to services.
Asked what congregants should do if they detect increasingly erratic behavior in a member or attendee, Meyer says they should bring their concerns to the rabbi or the president of the shul.
“I recognize my limitations in most areas,” Meyer says. “If someone has a serious problem, I’d help them find the right counselor or doctor.”
“If you are worried about a congregant’s behavior, approach the rabbi,” advises Dr. Mordechai Mishory, a psychologist and member of Nefesh International, a network of Orthodox mental health professionals.
“The proper protocol is discussing your observations privately with the rabbi, who has the ethical responsibility and ability to act in a helpful way.”
Mishory says it’s crucial to convey concerns to the rabbi before talking to anyone else, because this invasion of privacy will only embarrass the person.
Psychologists and psychiatrists obey a strict ethical standard that prohibits them from offering their services unless they are asked to provide those services, he adds.
“We would never initiate such an action,” says Mishory. “We would never say, ‘You look like you’re in trouble, call me and make an appointment.’ This must come from them.
“People have told me that ‘so-and-so looks like they need help.’ But I can’t approach the person in question based on that information. However, I can tell congregants who think someone has a problem to speak with the rabbi.”
After speaking privately with the potentially troubled congregant, the rabbi will recommend the appropriate resources, if warranted.
The Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council does not have a policy on how to approach congregants who might be suffering from mental illness, according to Rabbi Bruce Dollin, RMRC president.
Rabbinical confidentially is commonly referred to as a gray area, particularly because rules that apply to children do not necessarily extend to adults. For instance, rabbis must report child abuse to the authorities. That’s the law.
“If there’s a dangerous situation affecting children we must report it,” says Rabbi Eliot Baskin, JFS community chaplain. When reporting is not an option, he will try to do everything possible within the confines of rabbinic confidentiality. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Rabbi Dollin, spiritual leader of the HEA, says he would act immediately in cases of imminent danger.
“If a woman told me her husband had threatened her life, I would sit her down in my office and plead with her to call the police,” he says. “And call now — not tomorrow.”
Dollin would also intervene if a person revealed plans to commit suicide.
“Rabbis are not mental health professionals,” he says. “Sometimes the most effective thing we can do is make an effective referral so people get the help they need.”
SINCE Beverly Liggett’s murder, many in Denver’s Jewish community have echoed Livie Liggett’s plaintive account of her brother Ari’s inability to obtain treatment.
At the funeral service, a broken Seth Masia said he and Beverly were going to get married as soon as they made arrangements for Ari — “when” being the operative word.
The situation with Ari made Beverly “fragile,” Masia said. “The reversals [in Ari’s condition] were frequent. But she always found another direction to try.”
Ron Liggett, Beverly’s ex-husband and Ari’s father, told 9News Oct. 18 that, “My son is mentally ill. We are failing in terms of mental health treatment, prevention and resources.”
“The one bright spot in all this,” a Liggett family acquaintance told the IJN, “is that Livie was away [at college] when this happened, or it would have been even more tragic.”
After Ari Liggett’s previous arrest in March, 2010, his mother told authorities that he had made comments in the past that he would “get rid of the family.”
Despite the fact that Ari’s specific mental history has not been publicly disclosed, the crime has cast a glaring spotlight on the deteriorating state of mental health care in Colorado and the US
“The mental healthcare system in this country is broken,” says Stacey Weisberg, JFS’ director of mental health and community services.
“One of the reasons is the huge deficit of psychiatrists in general. There is a shortage nationally and in Colorado.
“And in rural areas, there’s nothing.
“JFS does not have a psychiatrist on staff. The ones that are still around make way more than we can afford to pay.”
Insurance plays a large role in obtaining treatment, Weisberg says. Whether a patient has public or private insurance, large deductibles, plan limitations and poor reimbursement track records result in tremendous out-of-pocket expenditures.
“If you have enough money to pay, you get the services,” Weisberg says simply.
Mental health clinics are shutting their doors, and patients sent to a hospital psychiatric ward for evaluation can be discharged within 24 hours if they are not considered to be a threat to themselves or others.
“To be blunt, if these patients lack insurance the hospitals don’t want them,” Weisberg says.
“These are the people who fall through the cracks,” says Rabbi Baskin.
“I see them when I visit psychiatric wards, Isee them on the streets. They are bounced from one hospital to another until they end up at Pueblo or Fort Logan — and Fort Logan is reducing its staff.”
BASKIN says Judaism inherently values individuals with mental and physical disabilities and that “every synagogue welcomes the mentally ill.
“In the Talmud, we learn that we are all created in the image of G-d. We have infinite worth regardless of our disabilities. This is one of the cardinal principles of Judaism.”
Weisberg emphasizes that with proper care, people with mental disorders function very well and make important contributions to society.
“Treatment does work,” she says. “Today’s medications are much more sophisticated, as is our knowledge of neurological brain functioning. The right combination of medication and psychotherapy helps people achieve stable, happy and productive lives.”
Jewish Disabilities Network, JFS, the Colorado Association of Mental Illness and the Autism Society of Colorado provide invaluable resources to the mentally ill.
“JFS remains an important address for the mentally ill,” says Baskin. “We have excellent counselors, a mental illness task force and support groups for families.
“Is there more to be done? Of course. Sadly, there’s only so much we can do. The mentally ill are the shadow side of our society.”
Dollin realizes that despite the best intentions, some people and circumstances are beyond reach.
“You just can’t help everyone,” he says. “Even if you have good, sensitive, listening ears, unless you know what a person’s planning in advance, you are helpless.”
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News