Mom fears mentally-ill stepson will act on death threats

April 30, 2013 5:34:09 AM PDT
Sylvia Benninger says the sight of a man in her south suburban backyard stopped her cold.

She thought that her mentally ill stepson finally showed up to do what she says he has been promising for more than twenty years.

"He would tell me how he was going to murder my husband and if I was in the way, he would take me out with him," Sylvia Benninger said.

The stepson, Edward Benninger, is now 50 years old. He has long and extensive psychiatric, criminal and prison histories that began in 1979, including arrests for violence and gun possession.

In 1987, he had to be discharged early from the air force.

"My husband started receiving telephone calls from doctors and police departments in California telling him that he needed to be extremely cautious and he was intent upon killing him and they believed that he would carry it out," Sylvia Benninger said.

In 1997, Edward Benninger was charged with threatening to murder a federal judge in Indiana, saying he was on "a mission to kill" Judge Rudy Lozano and "cap" all of his colleagues.

Before trial he was sent to a federal prison hospital, where doctors determined he was delusional, psychotic, paranoid, bipolar, had schizoaffective disorder and was dangerous.

"He believes that he is a government assassin. He believes that the government is paying him to do this," Sylvia Benninger said.

Federal charges were dropped in the Indiana judge threat after Edward Benninger agreed to mental health treatment.

But ten years later Edward Benninger pleaded guilty to doing the very same thing again, this time threatening to murder federal judges in Pittsburgh.

In both cases according to public records he avoided prison and was released to the streets in no more than a year.

Since 2011, Sylvia Benninger says her stepson has left hundreds of threatening phone messages against family members. She says she has received more than 100 threatening calls since November, most of them from payphones in Los Angeles, and has turned over the recordings to police.

"We're gonna pop her in the [expletive] head with a [expletive] 9mm...You're a dead [expletive]," Edward Benninger said on a recorded phone message.

"He has never once stayed on his treatment plan and I know of at least a dozen institutions he has been in. And he always goes back in his psychotic state. He believes that it is ok for him to kill. Now whether he is killing or not, I don't know. But he is explicit that he is going to shoot me."

There is a two-year-old warrant form Edward Benninger's arrest in Cook County for phone harassment.

After the I-Team alerted public officials to the continuing problem, late today the Cook County Sheriff's Department expanded the arrest warrant.

"The warrant that was issued is geographically limited - which unfortunately we find in way too many cases - but in this case we have requested that the scope of the warrant be lifted so that it's a nationwide warrant and there can be more aggressive efforts put in place to take him into custody and hold him accountable for the charges here in Cook County," said Cara Smith, of the Cook County Sheriff's Department.

His stepmother says regardless of the threats, local, state and federal law enforcement agencies do not seem eager to protect her. She says when incidents such as Boston or Sandy Hook happen, she is petrified.

"I stay glued to the TV because I am so afraid that until they tell me who did it-'he (Edward) did it'...cause he's out there and he's going to do this and nobody will take him off the street," said Sylvia Benninger.

Illinois mental health officials decline to discuss Benninger's case. But the state's chief psychiatrist says he believes that in most cases, early access to mental health services does help prevent tragedies.

"I also believe that sometimes, despite everyone's best efforts - the best efforts of families and the best effort of physicians and the best effort of broader social systems - that there can be really bad outcomes," said Dr. Dennis Beedle, of the Illinois Division of Mental Health.

Fearing such an outcome, Sylvia Benninger recently obtained an Illinois gun permit.

"I don't see I have any choice...somebody is going to have to protect me. I'm sorry, I'm the victim. I am not the criminal...If I can't defend myself, he's right. it's all over for me," said Sylvia Benninger.

If you need help immediately, call 911.

If it is not an emergency:

Illinois Mental Health Division: http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=29728

Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago: http://www.mentalhealthchicago.org

Cook County Sheriff's Dept.: http://www.cookcountysheriff.org/

Cook County State's Attorney: http://www.statesattorney.org/

Indiana Division of Mental Health: http://www.in.gov/fssa/dmha/4521.htm

Wisconsin Community Mental Health Services: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/MH_BCMH/index.htm

Michigan Behavioral Health Administration: http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,4612,7-132-2941---,00.html


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