Rite Aid Hostage Taker Struggled for Years with Mental Illness
"Robby wasn't on a mission, the Dark Man was."
Thursday, October 30, 2014 12:50 PM
At about 7 p.m. on September 16, Robby Beerman came downstairs carrying a box and told his parents, Lori and Fred, that he was heading to the Rite Aid in Camden to meet a woman. Although Robby had few friends, he said that the woman was a gamer like himself and that they planned to spend the rest of the evening playing video games. At about 11:30 p.m., the police pulled up to the Beermans' home and informed the family that Robby was involved in a hostage situation at the pharmacy.
Robby Beerman circa 2002 (Photo courtesy of the Beerman family)
The police didn't tell Lori about the sawed-off shotgun, and she had no idea that the metal fragments from the barrel lay on the floor of his upstairs bedroom. The police instructed her to stay put, but that was not an option for the mother who had cared for her son for 34 years. She promptly went downtown toward the police barricades, the gawking pedestrians, the smartphone cameras, and the flashing blue lights.
By the end of the night, a very shaken pharmacy employee had been released and Robby, age 34, was dead of a self-inflicted gun shot. His parents found Robby's video game system still in his bedroom, and the police reportedly found the empty X-Box console box in the Rite Aid bathroom.
"He told me many years ago, before all this happened, 'I'm not going to make it to my 35th birthday,'" said Lori. "His 35th birthday is on November 8."
Like most crimes committed in the community, it's difficult for reporters on tight deadlines to get a sense of the motives behind desperate acts. Most of the time, we rely on police interviews and court affidavits, of which there are many on Robby.
At the time of his suicide, he was facing a potentially lengthy sentence for breaking into Cuzzy's Bar and Grill in Camden and stealing $700 on August 16. On the surveillance cameras, Robby was seen clearly intoxicated and repeatedly falling face down. His violent arrest record goes back to 2009 when he was sentenced to nine months in jail for domestic violence assault, criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, and terrorizing his girlfriend in Waterville.
In 2011, Robby was sentenced to 18 months at Maine State Prison for domestic assault, criminal threatening, criminal mischief and domestic violence. According to the police affidavit, after assaulting his girlfriend, Robby attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself with an extension cord. After she cut him down, he was found by police tearing apart the house. As in other incidences, Robby was under the influence of prescription drugs and alcohol and fell face down on the pavement right before he was arrested. Before he was booked at the Knox County Jail, he was cuffed, strapped to a gurney and transported to the Psychiatric and Addiction Recovery Unit (PARC) at Pen Bay Medical Center for a psychiatric evaluation.
A Lifelong Struggle with the "Dark Man"
But that wasn't the Robby Beerman I knew growing up in Lincolnville over 20 years ago. In the days following Robby's traumatic demise, I couldn't shake the image of the little boy at school who played sports and was always looking for approval. I remember his giggle as he joked around during team meetings in wrestling and in pick-up soccer games at recess. His sense of humor is also what his sister Mandy will always remember about her older brother.
"When he wasn't abusing his pills or using alcohol he was the funniest, sweetest person you could ever meet," she said. "He could be talking about something and he would just have some comeback that could just make you laugh even if you were having the worst day ever."
But Robby also carried a host of traumatic childhood experiences to adulthood. From age 7 to 9, Robby was allegedly sexually molested by a non-family member, according to his family. He also suffered from Russell Silver dwarfism, a genetic disorder that stunted his growth so that he never reached 5 feet tall. Throughout childhood, he was bullied and picked on, which his parents say started at his first school, long before he came to Lincolnville. As a kid, adults might say Robby had "some problems," but it went deeper than that, says his mother.
"He started showing it when he was very young on the first day of kindergarten. He was so cute," Lori recalled as she thumbed through a stack of childhood photos.
"That's when he found out that he was different," Fred added.
"But he never knew he was," said Lori. "The first day of school in kindergarten, he got on the bus. I think it was on the way home, the bus driver said, 'Hello, short shit.' Robby said, 'Fuck you.' Robby got suspended off the bus for two days and the bus driver got nothing. It proceeded from there."
While it's difficult to prove an incident that allegedly happened 30 years ago, there's no question that Robby had a hard time in school. In the days following the Rite Aid incident, others in the area took to social networking, expressing regret for picking on young Robby. The mugshot of the hardened felon covered in bruises and abrasions from the Cuzzy's break-in is not the man the family want to remember, but as Lori pulls out the photos of her son, she observes that there's never a smile on her son's face even as a child.
"He was troubled then. You can tell by looking at the eyes. Troubled eyes," she says. "It's the eyes that tell you."
By his teenage years, the family says Robby began to show signs of the paranoid schizo-affective disorder, chronic depression and anxiety that he would struggle with for the rest of his life.
Robby also had difficulty in school with learning disabilities and was eventually expelled from Camden-Rockport High School for constant behavioral problems. After a short time in an alternative-pathway-to-graduation program, Robby finally dropped out of school for good. But it was when the family moved to Minnesota in 2000 that Robby, then 20 years old, began to go very seriously downhill. There, Robby landed a job at a plant assembling computer tables along with a mostly immigrant workforce.
"He would come home complaining about them talking about him because he couldn't understand them," recalled Fred. "He quit and started receding into himself."
The family says Robby began to get more and more paranoid and would sit in the garage for hours on end where no one could see him, peering suspiciously out at the people outside.By the time the family moved back to Maine in 2003 - to Waldoboro and later Waterville and then Camden - Robby's mental illness had progressed to the point where he could no longer work, and he was approved for federal disability benefits a year later. According to his family, Robby sought out his own psychiatrist and was uninterested in any comprehensive treatment for his illness other than the prescription for the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin and mood stabilizer Lamictal.
"His drug of choice besides Klonopin was [the painkiller] Vicodin. He'd take it every day if he could," said Fred. "But for Klonopin, he didn't have to go and seek out a dealer. He just got a ride to the dealer [his psychiatrist], which was legal."
It was also in Waterville that Robby began talking about his "dark man," which his mother hadn't heard him mention since he was in his teens. The dark man was someone even Robby's immediate family saw seldom, but his girlfriend witnessed him that night in the summer of 2009 in Waterville. The dark man would often return when Robby started binge drinking and taking all 70 Klonopin pills for the month in the course of a day or two. According to Robby's parents, their attempts to ration the drugs were generally unsuccessful.
For Lori and Fred, who also work in the mental health field, it was a constant struggle to figure out what to do with a mentally ill adult son, particularly because he didn't always want help. As a result, there didn't appear to be anyplace else for him when he had his epidsodes other than the temporary crisis unit at the hospital, jail or prison. In the last six months, Robby's illness began to rapidly worsen. He reportedly began hearing voices, and the family would see him behind the house talking with people who weren't there. Just days before Robby broke into Cuzzy's, his parents took him to the PARC unit after they found him drinking heavily in his room and cutting himself with a knife.
"I told the doctors there, 'Put him in the PARC Unit because the boy is hollering for help,'" said Fred, holding a photo of his son's self-inflicted injuries. "Then a couple of hours later, they called us up and said he was sober enough to go home. They said he was not a threat to himself."
According to the police affidavit filed at the time of his arrest for the Cuzzy's burglary, the police found Robby at home wearing the same clothes he had worn for days. After initially denying the charge, Robby admitted to doing it because he was "broke," but that he had been blacked out for days from drinking. He said he would kill himself if he went back to prison and said that he never should have been released from the PARC Unit because he wasn't "right." A spokesman for the PARC Unit would not comment on the specific case, citing patient confidentiality, but said it would be very rare for someone to be released from the unit if they claimed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Lori Beerman also acknowledged that her son had been in denial about his illness and didn't want help until the very end.
Robby's Final Days
As the Beerman family confirms, Robby had likely carefully planned his final night in the days leading up to the Rite Aid stand-off. Three days before, he had purchased a suit presumedly for his court date in October.
"His tie was stained. I said no problem, I got all kinds of ties and he picked one out," said Fred. "I said I would teach him how to tie it a little later, but I never did get a chance to teach him how to tie it."
The family believes it was Robby's plan to be buried in the suit.
And Robby had other physical health problems besides his mental illness that his family thinks were related to his depression. He suffered with chronic migraines, chronic pain due to fibromyalgia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from smoking - a disease his father suffers from as well. Mandy, who lived at home with her brother, said that in his last days Robby began talking more and more about suicide.
"What bothered him is he felt like if he went to prison, that he wouldn't see our dad alive when he got out. That bothered him because we're a close family," said Mandy. "He felt like a burden, like nobody wanted him. He suffered from loneliness quite a bit. He spent quite a bit of his time upstairs playing games, being isolated all night long. He felt like nobody loved him. We were it. His social circle was his family. He had no friends."
Without any social network to get the drugs he wanted, his family believes robbing the Rite Aid was the only way he knew how to end his life. The police still have been unable to trace where Robby got the shotgun he used in the robbery, but it is known that he sawed off the barrel and the butt end to fit his small frame.
"The pharmacy was where he could get all of the drugs to numb his pain where he had to do what he had to do," said Robby's other younger sister, Samantha. "He didn't want my mom and dad to find him, so he didn't want to do it here. He didn't plan on leaving alive."
Fred nodded. "Robby wasn't on a mission. The dark man was."
In the end, the Beermans were unaware that Robby had any friends at all until a sympathy card arrived in the mail from Maine State Prison.
"He did have friends that we didn't know about until he passed on," said Fred. "His friends were the inmates in Warren."
These days news stories of men like Robby have become such a regular occurrence that we seem to have given up on looking for answers. Why are there so many troubled men like Robby resorting to such desperate, violent acts? Could the mental health system have done anything else for Robby? How do you handle a family member who doesn't want to seek help for a severe mental illness until it's too late? How do you balance the rights of an individual with public safety? Is our systematic incarceration of the mentally ill helping them recover or, even, making us any safer? It's a public debate that we all claim to want, but that we always seem to ignore until another tragedy strikes.
"I just hope that the people out there that have family members having a problem can read this and get help for their kids," said Fred. "I know a lot of people out there with mental health issues who are not getting the help they need. And I do believe in the future that you're going to see more Robbies throughout the United States."