OUR FAMILY TRAGEDY by Sonia Fletcher Dinger

I wrote the first part of my story in September 2011 while my daughter Christina was in jail awaiting transfer to Napa State Hospital. I sent it to the Treatment Advocacy Center who wanted to publish it on their website. I was afraid to have it published because I was worried that it could adversely affect my daughter's chance of eventual release. On the advice of her attorney, I said no. This is our story:

My daughter Christina was a lovely girl, a college graduate, a good student, beautiful and smart. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia after she shot and killed her father on May 13, 2010. She had no history of arrests or violence. Drug tests were clean.

She had been having mental problems since leaving home for college, but we were unaware of the severity of her illness. She was trying so hard to be normal. Two years earlier, Christina had been committed for 3 days on a psychiatric hold for "mania" but we thought it was a fluke and that she had overdosed on a nicotine patch while trying to quit smoking.

After that commitment, she saw a psychiatrist for a few months who put her on Abilify but she was not told she had schizophrenia, though she now believes that she presented ample evidence of her delusional thinking and auditory hallucinations. There are so many steps along this road to tragedy at which there was a chance for the story to take a different turn but the stars did not align in our favor.

By 2010, Christina had graduated with a degree in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz but was unable to find a well paying job so she decided to go to nursing school. She moved in with her father for a few months while she completed the prerequisites. She got straight A's the first semester but started flunking tests the following semester and was having trouble sleeping. At that time she was being treated by a psychiatrist for anxiety who put her on Effexor. I believe this drug made her illness worse.

Her father and brother began calling me frequently because she stopped going to school and was acting strangely and they didn't know what was wrong with her. Christina was calling me daily to talk about school, talking a mile a minute. I could tell she was frantic but she insisted the psychiatrist had told her it was just anxiety. She went back to the psychiatrist who put her on a mood stabilizer but it was too little too late.

The night before the shooting, I spoke with Christina and her dad and brother. We all agreed that she would move to Mount Shasta, where I live. I live in the country where there is less stress than in the Bay Area. I wanted to help Christina, and it was hard to do that over the phone. There is a nursing school here, though not the one she hoped to attend.

She wanted to drive up immediately that evening but I convinced her it would be best to see the psychiatrist in the morning to have her medicine adjusted and then go to school to withdraw from her classes before she drove the 4 hours to Mount Shasta.  

Before Christina's dad went to bed that night, he asked Christina's brother to hide the loaded gun he kept in the nightstand in his bedroom. When my son entered the room, Christina was on the phone with her boyfriend, crying, so he decided to wait. Later in the evening he grew sleepy and forgot about the gun. I don't know why my ex-husband didn't hide the gun himself.

Sometime after everyone went to bed that night, Christina began driving around in her car. She thought her car was "tapped" and she tried to set it on fire because she thought voices from the FBI or CIA were coming from it. She thought someone was following her and trying to kill her. She thought she had to kill herself to prevent World War III because President Obama had spoken directly to her on TV. If only I had let her drive up earlier or if only her dad didn't have a loaded gun, perhaps this tragedy wouldn't have happened. Everyone can think of things they should have done if they had only known.

As her psychosis raged she drove back home and entered her dad's bedroom to get the gun and kill herself. As soon as she entered her dad's room, the voices told her to kill her dad. She says she didn't think twice. She was so ill she couldn't think straight at all. The voices commanded her.  

Christina loved her dad. She told me they'd been getting along well and she was enjoying her stay with him. There was lots of news coverage and the prosecutor made up a motive. They said Christina killed her father because he was pressuring her to move out to get away from her boyfriend. The news articles didn't tell the whole story. The DA suspected me of being complicit and trying to "tip Christina off" as I frantically tried to reach her on her cell phone. I was justifiably afraid she would try to kill herself.

She was picked up by police in a park in Oakland the following day, naked and covered with blood, and admitted to an acute care psychiatric hospital until she could be stabilized. She spent two weeks being "stabilized" and was immediately arrested and charged with first degree murder upon discharge. Needless to say, our family was devastated.

When I came out of shock, I hired a lawyer who did a comprehensive investigation which found a long history of mental illness. A psychologist hired by the court agreed with the psychiatrist hired by the defense. Christina had schizophrenia. The DA lowered the charge from first to second degree murder. Christina pled guilty, avoiding a trial, and was acquitted by reason of insanity. In 2011, Christina was sentenced to Napa State Hospital for 6 months to life but she awaited transfer from the jail for several months because there were no beds available.

Christina has responded well to treatment with anti-psychotic medication. (She was later diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder and bipolar disorder at Napa State Hospital.) I'm glad she didn't kill someone in the community. I would not want another family to suffer as we have. If she had, I'm sure she would be spending the rest of her life in prison. She still has a chance for a good life when she is deemed recovered. I am told she will continue to receive counseling and treatment after she is released. Fortunately, she knows that she has to take medication for the rest of her life.


The story above was the story of our family tragedy that I was afraid to tell before. Christina was transferred to Napa State Hospital on her birthday, September 14, 2011, and released from Napa State Hospital in November of 2016, six and a half years after killing her dad. She lives in a group home with other mentally ill people. She's on a conditional release program which is like parole for serious mental illness. She's in school to become a paralegal. 

I'm grateful that my daughter has a second chance for a better life. I know that so many others are spending tortured lives in prison or on the streets. If not for the fact that I had the ability to hire a lawyer to represent her, she could be spending the rest of her life in prison. 

Unfortunately, there are still so many people who don't understand mental illness. My second and current husband is unsympathetic. He wants nothing to do with my daughter. My son, still grieving for his dad, has disowned his sister for killing his dad and disowned me for coming to her aid. At this time I'm not permitted to visit my son or my granddaughters who are 1 and 2 years old. Our family is fractured by mental illness. I'm ashamed to say that I had little sympathy or support for my sister who has schizophrenia as well, until the disease struck my own daughter and shocked me into realizing the truth:  schizophrenia is a brain disease that destroys a victim's ability to control their own thoughts and actions. Never in a million years would I have believed that this nightmare could happen to us until it did.

 Sonia's Mom Alice, Christina, and Sonia

Sonia's Mom Alice, Christina, and Sonia

From the oldest