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Air Marshals Fatally Mistake Man With Bipolar Disorder For Terrorist;
Passengers Say Wife Told Officers He Was Off His Medications

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 7, 2005

MIAMI, FLORIDA--Rigoberto Alpizar became the first person killed by U.S. Air Marshals, after federal officers -- apparently believing he had a bomb and was a threat to fellow passengers -- opened fire as he tried to leave a plane at Miami International Airport.

Authorities later determined that Alpizar, a U.S. citizen, was not dangerous. No explosives were found near him or on the jetliner.

According to several news accounts, the 44-year-old Home Depot employee, who had been diagnosed with the mental illness bipolar disorder, was agitated and acted irrationally because he had not taken his medication.

Alpizar and his wife of two decades, Anne Buechner, were returning from missionary work in Ecuador. They had cleared customs inspections several hours earlier before boarding Flight 924 for Orlando.

Several witnesses told reporters that Alpizar appeared upset and that his wife tried to calm him before they boarded the flight. At some point while passengers were still boarding, Alpizar reportedly began running back and forth in the plane.

A spokesperson with the Department of Homeland Security said later that Alpizar indicated that he had a bomb in his carry-on bag. When air marshals on board the plane approached him and ordered him to get down on the ground, Alpizar instead ran out of the plane and up the air-bridge back toward the terminal.

When Alpizar reached toward his bag, the federal officers fired, striking him several times.

The plane was emptied of passengers and searched, but no bombs or detonators were found.

Several passengers have disputed the officers' accounts that Alpizar said he had a bomb. They did indicate, however, that Buechner followed her husband, shouting that he had a mental illness and was off his medicine.

Buechner is a coordinator for the Council on Quality and Leadership, formerly known as the Accreditation Council on Services for People with Disabilities, which provides accreditation services for programs that serve people with intellectual and other disabilities.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness responded to the shooting by calling on the law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Air Marshal Service, to examine their training and education protocols and to prepare officers to respond effectively to people who experience mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder.

According to a NAMI statement, about 2.3 million American adults have the mental illness, which is characterized by episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months, and can also lead to psychiatric episodes marked by delusions or hallucinations.

"Sky marshals fatally shoot passenger who made bomb threat on jet in Miami" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
"Passenger who made threat shot, killed at Miami International" (Associated Press via Lakeland Ledger)
"NAMI Responds To Miami Shooting" (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
"Statement Regarding the Tragic Events of December 7, 2005 at Miami International Airport" (The Council on Quality & Leadership)

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