Crime

Homicide suspect's probation report highlights previous issues

Andrew Downs
Andrew Downs

Andrew Wesley Downs, the 20-year-old charged with killing two sisters at Santa Margarita Ranch on Christmas evening, had been a good student and a normal kid until at 15 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to a San Luis Obispo County probation report. Over the subsequent years, he displayed a worsening pattern of mental health problems, which his parents were trying to help him with, the report said.

But in the year leading up to the killings, Downs periodically stopped taking his medications, and he went missing a month before the homicides, the report said.

The probation report filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on May 4 related to a February 2010 trespassing incident in Cambria, to which Downs pleaded no contest.

Downs allegedly shot and killed sisters Kathy Yeager and Beverly Reilly, both of Owens Valley and in their 60s, at Santa Margarita Ranch on Dec. 25, and hours later he allegedly tried to beat a family friend, Glen Johnson, to death with a wrench in Atascadero.

The nearly year-old probation report cites a comment from Downs’ father, Gary Downs, that he was a straight-A student, in the honor band and a “very popular kid at Atascadero High School” before showing signs of mental illness and then being diagnosed with “chronic schizophrenia.”

In the report, which is redacted to exclude information and names protected by California privacy laws, Andrew Downs told county probation officials that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 15 and experiences “intense thoughts.”

Downs’ illness

Downs had been under the care of a psychiatrist since the onset of his illness and was being treated with a variety of medications, including the antipsychotic drugs Zyprexa and Haldol, the report states.

“Mr. Downs describes his son as a gentle, creative and still very social individual, who took to carrying a Bible around the high school, trying to help people,” according to probation officials. “He did manage to graduate despite the gradual escalation of symptoms.”

Andrew Downs was participating in group sessions through county Mental Health Services in Atascadero and was “looking forward to getting to the point where he can go out and find a job,” the report states.

According to the report, before his arrest for trespassing, Downs’ parents asked a health specialist to visit their home after their son lit a stove in a barn and created a “profuse amount of smoke.”

Downs had been “cheeking,” or pretending to take his medication, which worsened his symptoms, according to the health specialist.

The specialist demonstrated to Downs’ parents how to ensure their son was swallowing his pills by checking his mouth and sitting with him for 30 minutes after he ingested them, the report said.

The report also said Downs had been using about a quarter-ounce of marijuana every two weeks, showing a “marijuana letter” from a local doctor. It was not clear when the use occurred or whether it ceased.

Gone missing

About a month ago, Downs appears to have gone missing. His mother posted missing persons fliers at local businesses, according to a Morro Bay clerk. But no missing persons report was filed with the Sheriff’s Department or the Atascadero police.

Ashley Von Burg, a clerk at Blue Bean Espresso in Morro Bay, said she remembers seeing Madeline Downs enter the coffee shop with a homemade sign featuring a photo of her son. The flier said Andrew Downs had last been seen with a guitar on Highway 41 in the Morro Bay area.

The trespassing

The report also reveals more details about the February trespassing charge.

Andrew Downs told county probation officials that he was having “nasty and weird” thoughts on the day of the trespassing when a property owner in Cambria asked him to leave. But Downs was still at the ranch after the man returned from taking his daughter to school.

Upon his return, the man called the Sheriff’s Department and said Downs was acting “bizarre.”

Downs was admitted to a Ventura treatment center and spoke with probation officials after his release, saying he felt “much better.” The report did not say when he was released.

Treatment

The Downses have not returned repeated requests for comment. They tried to get help for their son, said Lori Swanson, a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who taught a 12-week course — Family to Family — that Madeline and Gary Downs attended two years ago.

“I remember meeting Andrew when he was doing well, and he was fine,” Swanson said. “That’s typical of schizophrenia. He was quiet and not being outrageous or aggressive, just quiet and hanging out.”

People with schizophrenia, she said, often don’t recognize they are ill.

“They don’t have the perception that they aren’t doing well,” she said. “I can’t speak specifically for Andrew, but with schizophrenia in general, they don’t take their medication because they don’t think anything is wrong.”

The report said that Downs’ parents had done a great deal for their son and his illness: “They have managed to keep him out of institutions and the criminal justice system despite their growing concerns and frustration over his increasingly more troubling behavior.”

Because Downs is an adult, his parents could not force treatment or keep him detained in their home.

Downs’ attorney, Matt Guerrero, has declared doubt of his client’s mental competency to stand trial. Results of mental health examinations being conducted by two doctors are pending.

Tribune staff members Patrick S. Pemberton, Tonya Strickland and Jonah Owen Lamb contributed to this report.

Probation report for Andrew Wesley Downs

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