Medicine: The Suspect

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In Orem last week, his shocked and disbelieving relatives offered ample contrary evidence. To them, Dean was a happy, creative, intelligent child, who did unusually well in school, helped his mother with housework, went swimming with his father and haying with his beloved grandfather. The toil and discipline of getting through medical school made Dean's father a no-nonsense man, but the Nimers were conspicuously unquarrelsome. According to everyone, they were very happy people, and so too was Dean. The Orem pediatrician who examined him for five years called him robustly healthy; Utah's sole children's psychiatric clinic had never heard of Dean Nimer.

Different Boy. But this was not the Dean who went back to Orem for his parents' funeral. "Dean was a different boy," said one close adult relative. "He seemed to be in a trance, a state of shock. He didn't recognize some people."

What happened? Everywhere the questions swirled. Paranoid delusions seldom develop in children so young; schizophrenia can and does (though some psychiatrists disagree on the symptoms). There are usually signs long before illness is apparent: a predisposition to unsociability, passivity, withdrawal. Yet schizophrenia can also be hidden, then triggered by a demoralizing event, such as loss of a loved person or place ("reality"). The Nimers' decision to settle on Staten Island, far from Dean's beloved Orem, could have been such an event. But why parricide of both parents (and so loss of all security)? The "normal" parricidal pattern is murder of one parent, who threatens a close relationship between the child and the other parent.

Did Dean feel a smoldering hostility to his parents that he suddenly "acted out" all too realistically? Or did he simply identify himself with their murderer—after witnessing the terrifying event—because he felt like killing them?

Remanded to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, little Dean began a long period of intense psychiatric observation. A possible item on the agenda: putting a doll mother and a knife in his hands to see his reaction. Other tests will inevitably get at the truth of his "statements," which alone prove that whether he is a guilty boy or not, Dean Nimer is a very sick one.

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