What The Devil Told Joe Parker

Nobody paid much attention to the terrifying voices Joe Parker heard until he slashed his way through an Irvine supermarket.

Because he didn't fit the profile of a violent mentally ill person—one doctor calls schizophrenics "the lepers of the day"—he was never institutionalized. He was kicked back into the center ring of society over and over again.

"The law only allows us to hospitalize a person against his or her own will up to three days without a court order," says Dr. Gerald A. Maguire, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior at UCI. "Beyond that, we need a court order and a judge to approve it for another 14 days. Beyond that, it's even very difficult to get the six-month chronic stays for those who present an acute danger to others."

After the barricading incident,Parker lost his job at Orange Lock and Key. He lost his car and was unable to pay rent, so he went to live in Irvine with April Hart, the girlfriend of a former co-worker. He now kept CD headphones in his ears almost constantly in an effort to muffle the voices he heard. He pleaded with Hart to take him to Hollywood to purchase potions that were supposed to extinguish the demons' voices.

Heather said it was mid-2001 when Parker got a job as a bagger at an Albertsons in Irvine. He didn't make nearly as much money as he did as a locksmith, but he was proud he could take care of himself. He was seldom absent from work and, in fact, could be counted on to cover other shifts. He donned a customary red-velvet Santa hat during the holidays.

Parker's southern accent and impeccable manners once again earned him the admiration of co-workers. But behind the rural charm, he continued to mentally fall apart. While he gave the impression of workaday normalcy at work, phone calls to his mother back in Virginia were shorter and stranger. "He kept telling me, 'I hear voices, Momma, telling me to do bad things,'" Susan Davis said.

He tried reading the Bible aloud in a vain attempt to stifle the beckoning voices, and he spoke with the demons, telling them he refused to do bad things. But Bible verses simply confused matters, and soon he was claiming that prophets were talking to him—trying to get him to join the worshipers of Isis, the goddess of fertility and motherhood. Phantoms haunted Parker's sleep. In one graphic nightmare, a demon appeared in a mirror and touched him on the shoulder.

With Hart's help, Parker continued his tour through a maze of mental-health organizations, most so underfunded they could only provide a short-term fix. Hart told reporters after the attack that Parker could appear as if nothing was wrong in the presence of professionals, an unfortunate but common trait of schizophrenia.

The contradictory mental states he displayed undermined his best efforts to be taken seriously and get help. But Parker did want help. In November 2002 and again in January 2003, he called 911 and said he needed to be hospitalized before he became violent. Parker ended up at UCI Medical Center again, where he was prescribed medication. But he soon quit taking the drugs because, he complained, they made him nearly catatonic.

"There are options to try and force patients who aren't compliant to take medication," said UCI's Wu. "However, well-intentioned but misguided individuals with organizations like the ACLU and the Church of Scientology really badmouth medication and badmouth legal compliance. I think we need to find some healthy middle ground."

Parker's claim that he mightbecome violent was probably the last clue that something terrible was about to happen, but like all of the other signs it was largely ignored. Hart asked him to move out. He went to live in Santa Ana, where he paid $150 per month to sleep on a sofa in the garage of Ofelia Bernal. His life had become steeped in rituals. When he wasn't trying to exorcise demons that had already invaded his sanctuary, he was trying to block more from entering. One morning, Bernal found him encircled in a ring of salt he had spread on the floor to ward off demons. When Parker told her sons he had seen the devil, it frightened her so much she gave him 30 days to vacate her residence.

The world was running out of places for Parker and his spiritual entourage.

On June 27, 2003, two days before the attack, he bought a samurai sword at Musashi Martial Arts in Stanton.

On June 29, 2003, he woke up helmeted by chanting headphones, surrounded by the gritty remnants of another circle of salt. Looking into the mirror of a medicine cabinet stocked with partially filled bottles of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety drugs, he prepared to head to Albertsons, where he had not shown up to work for a month.

Joseph "Smiley" Parker then dressed himself and his demons in a dark full-length coat with a long sword hidden underneath and set out, pushing against a warm June breeze for the bus that would take him to Irvine for the last time.

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