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Psychologists Address San Mateo Bombing Suspect’s Sanity

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Alex Youshock - Hillsdale High School Pipe Bomb Suspect

Alex Youshock stands behind a glass partition during his arraignment in San Mateo County Superior Court. (CBS)

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REDWOOD CITY (CBS SF) — Two psychologists who examined Alexander Youshock in the months after his alleged attack on Hillsdale High School concluded that he suffers from a severe psychotic disorder, possibly a form of schizophrenia.

Mark Patterson and Alfred Fricke testified for the defense Wednesday morning in San Mateo Superior Court, where Youshock is on trial for bringing an array of pipe bombs, a samurai sword and a chainsaw to the campus on the morning of Aug. 24, 2009.

Patterson, who completed two psychological evaluations of the defendant in February and August of 2010, testified that Youshock displayed several behavioral symptoms that led him to diagnose Youshock with undifferentiated schizophrenia in a report he submitted to the court in September 2010.

During his examinations of the defendant, Patterson said, Youshock had complained of hallucinations and showed tendencies of delusional thinking, two common symptoms of schizophrenia.

The defendant told Patterson that he often heard whispering voices and saw bugs in his peripheral vision, both before and after his arrest. He recalled one instance when he thought he saw a demon in his prison cell, prompting him to throw water at it and shield himself with a Bible.

Youshock displayed intense symptoms of paranoia with respect to food, refusing to eat for fear of being poisoned—by his mother at home before his arrest and by the authorities once he was in custody, Patterson said.

He showed profound suicidal tendencies, fantasizing about being shot by police on the day of the attack, eating soap, crafting a noose, and stockpiling medicine to kill himself in jail, Patterson said.

Under cross-examination, Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti argued that it is possible that the hallucinations and suicidal tendencies could be a byproduct of Youshock’s forced isolation in juvenile hall and jail, that people might actually have been whispering near him when he heard voices.

She said Youshock might have stopped eating the food simply because he didn’t like it.

Fricke, who conducted more than 45 hours of independent examinations of Youshock, said there was little doubt that the defendant suffers from a serious mental disorder.

“I met with him many, many, many, many times,” Fricke said.

“There’s no doubt that there is a major mental illness. The question is what to call it,” he said.

In the months leading up to the Hillsdale attack, Youshock spent most days in his room playing violent video games in which characters were often armed with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails.

His ability to tell the difference between his violent fantasies and their possible consequences in the real world became obscured by his mental disorder, Fricke said.

Youshock’s family members said he insisted on eating cheeseburgers that he cooked for himself, and that his showers sometimes lasted for up to two hours, Fricke said.

“I think the most likely diagnosis in this case is schizophrenia,” Fricke said.

Cross-examination continued Wednesday afternoon.

Youshock has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of exploding a destructive device with the intent to commit murder, one count of possession of a destructive device in a public place, one count of use of explosives in an act of terrorism, and two counts of possession of a deadly weapon.

He remains in custody without bail.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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