A lifestyle and career blog for working moms.

The Life and Death of My Brother Bartholomew “Bart” Williams

Bartholomew Williams, Portia Mount, Boss Mom

One of my favorite pictures of me, Bart and my sister Cynde at my wedding in 2006.

On Saturday, December 8th my brother Bartholomew Williams, Bart to us, was shot and killed by Cal State San Bernardino campus police at his housing complex. My mother awakened me at 2:00am  Sunday morning with the news. She asked me if Dr. D. was nearby. My father recently had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his colon and was still feeling weak from the procedure. I thought she had called to say they were readmitting him to hospital.

Then came the news that hit me like an icy cold shower. “Your brother Bart was shot and killed last night by campus police,” she said. Her voice firm and steady.

Silence. I handed the phone to Dr. D.

My knees buckled and I was only vaguely aware that some how I had gone from standing to lying on the floor with my face in a pillow screaming. This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. My brother Bart was dead. According to media reports, he was shot five times in the torso by two of the three police officers who were on the scene.

My brother had become one more in a long line of mentally ill people shot and killed by police.

According to media reports, my unarmed brother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, struggled with the police who then shot him in alleged self defense.

A lot of terrible things are being said about Bart in the media. People speculate that he was sniffing bath salts, that he was high on PCP or some other mind-altering drug, somehow inferring that he got what he asked for. The dark, menacing photo of Bart the media are running only reinforces this.

My brother was not nor had he ever been a drug addict. Like a lot of people suffering from bi-polar disorder though, my brother was a complicated individual who struggled to lead a life not defined by his diagnosis.

I feel compelled to share who my brother really was, not for sympathy but perhaps to engender compassion for people like Bart who live with a disease that is misunderstood and stigmatized.

First, a brief primer on bipolar disorder, a disease which affects more than 10 million people. I am by no means an expert but thanks to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) I learned a lot about this disease when my brother was first diagnosed as a college student.

As NAMI defines it, Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months.

Bipolar disorder causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy and the ability to think clearly.

Cycles of high (manic) and low (depressive) moods may follow an irregular pattern that differs from the typical ups and downs experienced by most people.

People living with bipolar disorder often live with two intense emotional states. A manic state can be identified by feelings of extreme irritability and/or euphoria, along with several other symptoms during the same week such as agitation, surges of energy, reduced need for sleep, talkativeness, pleasure-seeking and increased risktaking behavior. On the other side, when an individual experiences symptoms of depression they feel extremely sad, hopeless and loss of energy.

The symptoms can be very different for different people. The treatment for bipolar disorder is lifelong medication and therapy.

My brother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his early twenties as a college student at the University of Virginia. Up until that year he was a popular, gregarious young guy. From a young age, Bart loved politics and we would spend hours debating the latest political issue of the day.

I too am a political junkie and long after we had moved away from home, he’d often start our phone calls asking me my opinion about a particular political issue or scandal.

We also shared a love of sports and working out. Bart was a tremendous athlete who loved to swim, bike and run. He often talked about trying to qualify for the Iron Man. He watched his diet carefully and often hounded our french-fry loving dad about eating too much junk.

If it had been awhile since I’d seen him, he’d squeeze my arm to check my muscle tone or jokingly poke my side to see if my corporate job was making me soft. “Nice to see you keeping it tight, Sis,” he’d nod in approval when I was doing well.

Bart once dreamed of being a sports writer.

Ever the contrarian, he loved the outspoken KC Star sports columnist, Jason Whitlock. He loved how Jason called it as he saw it and didn’t give a damn about what people thought of him.

Even though he never became a sports writer, Bart managed to earn his first master’s degree in library science and was pursuing a second at Cal State San Bernardino when he was killed. When we spoke just two weeks ago, he told me he wanted to move to Europe to teach.

Bart enjoyed good food (growing up our dad was quite the gourmand) but what he really loved were Chipotle burritos, which I considered carb-laden gut bombs. When I’d visit him, I’d offer to take him out to the latest restaurant but he was happiest with a chicken and black bean burrito and a Diet Coke.

Bart hated being bipolar and after his diagnosis he struggled to make peace with it.

With my parents’ and NAMI’s help, Bart was able to live independently and work for long stretches. But bipolar disorder is a tricky disease. It can take years to find the right combination of medications and the side effects of some drugs were brutal. Extreme weight-gain, sleeplessness and tremors. Even worse was the numbed out feeling my brother described as like being a living zombie.

Drugs would work for awhile and then have to be adjusted or changed entirely. Getting used to new drug combinations wreaked havoc on his system.

Like many people suffering with bipolar disorder, Bart mourned his old life, the life he had before his diagnosis.

People who live with bipolar disorder suffer from a profound biographical disruption. They are no longer the person they were and don’t know or recognize the person they are. Bart couldn’t accept that he would be this “new” person for the rest of his life.  He never lost hope that one day he would get better and be back to his old self. Eighteen years after his diagnosis he was still trying to hold on to the person he used to be even as those memories receded further and further into the past.

We talked about the past a lot. He especially loved talking about his time in Charlottesville, VA where he briefly attended UVA and our childhood home of Del Mar, CA where we played at the beach as kids.

As the years passed, sometimes I’d see flashes of the old Bart I grew up with witty, observant and sensitive. But he had low periods as well where he would withdraw into himself only emerging to run or swim.  When he was cycling, he could say mean and hurtful things only to call or email you back and act as if nothing ever happened.

I tried to get used to Bart’s moods but sometimes my patience would wear thin and I would lose my temper and snap at him. I regret it.

Families with bipolar loved ones live on the knife’s edge

You wait for bad news that someone has hurt them or they have hurt someone.

As serious a disease as mental illness is, it doesn’t engender the same kind of compassion as cancer or other devastating diseases. The uneducated believe that if mentally ill people somehow just had more self-control or were better medicated, all of their problems would go away.  Not so.

Right before he died, Bart told me that he realized he didn’t have any pictures of his nephew, D2. Could I send him a few? I told him we had just finished our holiday pictures and I definitely would. Before we hung up he told me not to forget to send the pictures. That was the very last conversation I had with him.

As I write this today, my family doesn’t know all the facts surrounding my brother’s death.

What we do know is that my brother was registered as a disabled student at Cal State San Bernardino and was receiving his medications and counseling from the University health services. Very few media outlets have covered this fact.

We don’t know if the police who were called on the scene of my brother’s residence knew of his mental illness.

We don’t know why three armed police officers chose to use deadly force rather than other non-lethal options.

We don’t know if the three police officers responsible for Bart’s death were properly trained to deal with mentally ill people and de-escalate volatile situations.

So many questions and so few answers.

We are fortunate that a number of prominent civil rights organizations, including the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association,  have come to my family’s aid. We are working to get an independent investigation into the facts surrounding my brother’s death. We are also looking to strengthen policies that protect mentally ill people from becoming victims of excessive police force.

Earlier this week a reporter from the Los Angeles Times asked me what I wanted to come out of my brother’s case. What do I want?  I want better police training to deal with people with mental illness so that confrontations don’t result in their deaths. I want people to understand that mental illness is a devastating a disease as cancer and that people living with these diseases deserve our love, support and most importantly, advocacy.

Nothing will bring my brother Bart back but if I can help one person be just a bit more compassionate and understanding of people with mental illness, I will consider that a small measure of success.

I am hoping to share my brother’s story as broadly as I can. I hope you can help me by leaving comments in the comment section, linking up to this post, sharing it on your Facebook page and tweeting it.

My heartfelt thanks for your support.

 

 

42 Responses to “The Life and Death of My Brother Bartholomew “Bart” Williams”

  1. Baraka D'Anjou

    For what it’s worth, I’m sorry to hear of your loss, miss. I’ve heard of Bipolar Disorder, and even know know some people who have it. Thankfully, said people have a support system (loving family and friends) that allows them to make it through life. I would hate to think of what would happen to them if they no longer had that system. I also imagine that your brother was quite lucky to have such an understanding sibling. Again, I am sorry for your loss, and salute your efforts to help make life better for those who have this unfortunate handicap.

    Respectfully,

    B. D’Anjou

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Baraka, I think those of us who know someone with bipolar disorder know what a complex and difficult disease it can be. We also know that people living with this disease can be challenging to love and yet they need our support all the more. Thanks for your words of encouragement, it means a lot.

      Reply
  2. Dr. H-M

    Thank you for sharing some of Bart’s story and for shedding light on what it is like for many people suffering from bipolar disorder. I’m so sad about the unnecessary loss of your brother’s life, and I’m praying for strength for you as you fight to make things change.

    Reply
  3. Ryan

    This was truly heartfelt and poignant. I too, wish for better training for law enforcement officers to deal with the mentally ill. But more importantly, I wish peace for your family. Peace that passeth all understanding. You are in my prayers.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Ryan, thanks. We know that nothing will bring Bart back but at least making sure someone else doesn’t die the way he did may at least bring some good out of a tragic situation. Thanks for your heartfelt words.

      Reply
  4. Erica Smith

    Hello,

    You don’t know me, except in name maybe, but I dated your brother Bart for 2 years while at UVA. I heard about his death yesterday and was flooded with memories of our time together. I remember that he loved running, eating pasta with lots of Parmesan cheese, and had a wonderful smile. I remember that he wanted to be something special, and worked very hard in his classes. I remember his wide smile as he ‘rocked’ to the beat when we heard music in the car. I remember his yellow van and how excited he was to have ‘wheels’ at school. I remember him showing me the shortcuts around campus, and many, many, more fun things! I remember that he pulled away into his mental illness and not understanding what was happening. I remeber the extreme sadness in his eyes toward the end if his time at UVA. I am so sorry for your loss, and so sad for him. I was organizing some photos a while aho and came across a few of him. I’d be happy to return them to your family. Feel free to contact me at ejs3e@aol.com. Please know that people who REALLY knew him have nothing but kind thoughts about him and do not believe what the news is writing. We are MORE than a diagnosis or a newspaper article. I Loved your brother for my first 2 years of college, and send you my sincere thoughts and prayers.

    Erica

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Erica, I’m so happy to see your comment. Bart never stopped talking about you. I think you made a great impact on him long after you both left UVA. I am trying to not let the media coverage get me down. You are right, those of us who knew Bart know who he really was and in the end that’s what really counts, right? I will be in touch.

      Reply
    • Madonna Williams

      Erica,

      I trust I am not speaking out of line when I say, Thank you. I’m certain your words brought some little comfort during this family’s tragic, needless loss of a loved one. May they all seek solace through our Lord, Jesus Christ.

      Reply
  5. Ginny

    Such courageous and beautiful words. Per your request to share this, I have passed along your post to the Mental Health Association in Greensboro. Prayers to you and your family.

    Reply
  6. Kajsa

    Thank you for sharing your brothers story. For those of us who deal with (on an individual or familial basis) mental illness, this is a wake up call. I am truly sorry for your loss.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Kajsa, I know you know what we are going through right now. We (I am) are taking it one day at a time. Thanks for all of the support you’ve sent my way. I really appreciate it.

      Reply
  7. veronica

    I was good friends with Bart in Highschool. We wrote to eachother when he moved away from
    Oregon. He was a very kind,funny and smart. We lost contact after when he went off to college and always wondered how he was doing. I am very shocked at this news. I am so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    Reply
  8. Alexa Sannen Jett

    I am so deeply sorry. I am sorry that Bart had been suffering and I am sorry that his family and friends will never be able to see him again. I went to Lincoln High School in Portland with Bart, and we would still write letters to each other when he moved to KC and to UVA. This was before emailing and we sent handwritten letters and small gifts to each other. And then I never heard from him again. For 18 years I wondered about my friend and wasn’t able to find a contact for him. And now I know what happened 18 years ago.
    This summer I spent hours searching for him on-line so I could ask him to attend our 20th high school reunion. I never found a way to get in touch with him and I was always surprised that his name didn’t pop up as I knew him as ambitious and out-going and thought for sure he was successful. I wondered if he had passed away. I missed him for all these years and now I regret not trying harder to find you or your other sister or parents. We scanned in his senior picture, that he had sent me as he didn’t graduate with us, into our video montage that played during the reunion. People asked where he was, but no one knew.
    Bart, you are loved and missed by your old school friends. We will never forget you, friend.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Alexa, Bart loved Lincoln HS and I’m sure he would have attended the reunion had he been able. So glad you were able to remember him at the reunion if only in a photo.

      Reply
  9. Brooke Hofer

    I remember Bart’s smile and laugh so vividly. He was unlike anyone else, especially at Lincoln HS…I’m very sad to hear that he won’t be out proving himself right anymore. :-) He is missed…even by those of us who lost touch.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Brooke, Bart’s smile is one of the things that I will always remember about him too. It’s one of the reasons I love the photo I posted so much.

      Reply
  10. Brant

    I am very sorry to hear of your loss and of the tragic circumstances that surround it. I imagine it must be difficult to get closure, with so many unanswered questions. My father was a psychologist in his working life, and worked tirelessly as both an advocate and somebody who provided some structure to their lives. I watched some of this from afar as I was growing up, and saw how some truly kind and beautiful people could also be deeply troubled. I admire what you are trying to do, to get the word out about mental illness and bipolar disorder. I hope it results in a few more understanding people in a world that seems to operate on sound bites. Again, my deepest condolences.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Brant, thanks so very much. You write something so true – many people with bipolar disorder are remarkable people. They can be incredibly smart, sensitive and creative and yet also deeply troubled. I appreciate your kind words.

      Reply
  11. Grace Pastine

    Thank you for this sensitive and touching tribute to your brother. You beautifully capture your brother’s determined and gregarious spirit, as well as the debilitating pain of mental illness.

    Bart and I went to high school together. We didn’t hang out with the same group of friends; I was shy and really disliked high school, and wasn’t very social. Despite not really knowing each other, your brother often joked around with me in the halls before class, and was always ready with an enthusiastic hello. Maybe he realized I could use a little help lightening up, or laughing a bit? And he always made me laugh. He was so bright, enthusiastic and outgoing.

    It is with such sorrow that I learn here that his promising life, despite it’s struggles, was cut short. How senseless, how stupid, and how wrong to have lost Bart in this way. I sincerely hope you and your family find the answers you deserve.

    I work for a civil rights organization in Canada, and I have spoken with far too many families who have lost loved ones who suffer from mental illness due to devastating encounters with police. In the police forces, there is a serious lack of training around mental health issues — far too often, officers rush to use violence, with grim and terrible results. Thank you for raising awareness around this issue, even in your time of pain. It is through the compassionate lens of family members that we will see real change.

    My heartfelt condolences to you and your family. Peace be with you.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Grace, you definitely hit on one of Bart’s key traits, his sense of humor. Sadly, we saw less and less of it over the years but when we did it always reminded me of the fun we had together as kids and teens. Thanks for sharing your memories of Bart.

      Reply
  12. Jen Gresham

    Oh, Portia, I am so very, very sorry. Losing a dear family member is never easy, and then to lose them in this way…my goodness, I can only imagine your pain.

    I’ll send you a more personal note, but I wanted to add here that I fully support your position on demanding better treatment for the mentally ill, not just to include doctors, facilities, etc, but better treatment from society in particular. Several people close to me have struggled with mental illness. The lack of support for them is so sad. Even when you want to help, it is very hard to do so. It sounds as if your brother was doing very well, all things considered, which I’m sure makes the loss all the more upsetting.

    Lots of hugs for you and your family. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Jen, that means a lot thanks. I know you know the road that has to be traveled after something like this. I’m still trying to make sense of it all. And yes, it is difficult to help and support someone with mental illness. Their disease by nature makes them less able to accept the help they really need sometimes. Thanks for your words of support. I really appreciate it.

      Reply
  13. Sadie Francis

    Hi,
    I went to high school with Bart at Lincoln High School. Always had a great smile on his face. I am truly sorry for your loss. Word can not express how touched I was by your post. Thank you for raising awareness surrounding this issue. Peace be with you at this difficult time.

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Sadie, thanks so much for sharing your memories of Bart. My family has been really touched by all of his high school friends who have contacted us.

      Reply
  14. Kevin Corno

    Portia, not sure if you remember me but I heard this news last night and my heart just sunk. Bart was a great childhood friend growing up going to school at Robert Grey and Lincoln High in Portland. Upon hearing the news i was flooded with memories of the fun we used to have as if they had just happened. My sincere condolances to you and your family

    Reply
    • bossmomonline

      Kevin, I do remember you! It’s been so gratifying to hear from all of Bart’s friends. I wish he knew how much he was loved and cherished by those who knew him. Thank you so much for your kind words.

      Reply
  15. Chrysula

    Portia, I am sending my prayers and love to you at such an unbelievably difficult time. We bandy about terms like “mental illness” not truly understand what they mean. Your post is powerful and a deeply moving portrait of the complexity of real life. I send deepest condolences and encouragement that you will find the answers you and your family deserve.

    Reply
  16. Yum Yucky

    It took a lot courage to write this so soon after his death. Portia, my hope is that you and your family will be comforted and that the unanswered questions surrounding Bart’s death will come out quickly. I hope you that and your family will heal and find peace.

    Reply
  17. April Frazier

    Thank you for sharing your brother’s story. Your willingness to share this is so inspiring and will help us in trying to find better ways to help people living with mental illnesses.

    Reply
  18. Therese McKnight

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I went to UVa with Bart and had a bit of a crush on him when I was a freshman! Praying that you and your family find peace in your memories and knowing that he is in a better place… While you are saying good bye on this side,,, he is being welcomed home on the other! God bless you and your family!

    Reply
  19. Blessing @ WorkingMomJounal

    Oh Portia, I am deeply sorry about your loss. This is beyond me as I struggle to understand what started this and why it had to end this way. I pray that you will find peace and draw strength from all the positive experiences you shared with your brother. I am truly shaken by this.

    Reply
  20. David Combs

    My condolences to your family, Portia. I remember Bart from UVa. I was a class or two ahead of him. Good dude. This blog-post hits home for me because my late mother was bi-polar. It was a “family secret” that I rarely shared with my friends at UVa, at my mom’s insistence, because she was afraid that it could/would be used against me socially, etc. So I never told anyone why she had trouble keeping a job, try as she did, so I can totally understand when you talked about how Bart didn’t want to have this condition. Like many struggling with bi-polar, she had her good days and bad. Being at school away from home, I was always waiting for that early-morning phone call that she’d had a set-back and I had to go home to help. It was tough on my parents’ marriage. I didn’t know how bi-polar affected people and their relationships, so, for many years, I wrongly blamed my Dad for him “leaving us,” but in reality, they couldn’t cope with my mother’s condition and stay together, and they did try for a decade and a half. The ripple effect was immense. You and your family will be in our thoughts and prayers. Please know that Bart wasn’t the only one who dealt with this condition. As it turns out, someone he went to UVa with was dealing with it from a different vantage point all along. Feel free to contact me should you ever want to talk. Believe me, I understand. david_combs@freddiemac.com

    Reply
  21. Errol Crockett

    My deepest condolences to you and the rest of our family. I never met Bart, but your description of him is vivid, and clarifying. He sounds like a person who was filled with love and ambition. I really appreciate your exposing the issue, though I’d heard of bi-polar disorder, I had casually dismissed it as, “just the dilemma of another person who couldn’t control themselves”.

    You have set the record straight with this article. I will share this, and do what I can.

    Errol

    Reply
  22. BK

    My condolences. I hope your family gets the information you need to understand what happened. We never here the victims side. Thank you for sharing

    Reply
  23. Marsha May

    Thanks for sharing about your loss. You have been a voice for so many others who have suffered and grieved without a voice to let the world know of the terrible crimes of neglect and abuse that have befallen those with emotional and psychiatric disorders and those who care about them. There are those who have literally given up on trying to get help. I am a Registered Nurse having worked many years with patients who have mental and emotional problems; I also have a very close relative with autism. I do know that all your question are more than ligitimate. Why so much deadly force? I have worked on psychiatric units when the police would bring a patient, bound in handcuffs and leg irons. They, then, release the bound patient from his/her chains and leave the patient in the care of three or four staff persons (who are caring for twenty other patients). These four staff persons must use only the least restrictive measures necessary in carring for this patient (and I fully agree).

    Reply
  24. Mike Christensen

    Bart was a great guy and good friend during the brief few years i knew him. We met on the freshman soccer team and became friends. We spent many hours out on the tennis courts together! I could always tell he would quickly surpass my skills through his fiery competitiveness and determination. We watched Eddie Murphy’s SNL VHS over and over. We attended the Bell Biv Devoe concert at the Memorial Coliseum! BBD!
    I’ll always remember the great times spent with Bart! It was a sad day when your fam moved from Portland. Tough to stay in touch in the olden days of snail mail but Bart left a mark on everyone he knew here in Portland and will be missed. Love to your entire family.

    Reply
  25. bossmomonline

    Portia, I had no idea about your brother and stumbled upon this post while updating your categories. I’m so sorry to hear this. I too believe that it was inexcusable that the police officers felt they (all three of them) needed deadly force to stop an unarmed man. Why didn’t they use the stun gun or taser? I hate to say it, but it seems like a lot of police officers in California are poorly trained or undereducated, or both! I don’t know how or why available information about a person cannot be immediately accessed and briefed to officers responding to a call. I believe the only thing that police are notified of is what may or may not exist within past police records. Outside of that, they have no idea what kind of person they are about to encounter. That’s too bad, especially in your brothers case. He obviously a educated and intelligent person, that would have me thinking that I might be able to defuse the situation knowing that I’m dealing with a person who is actually educated. Moreover, if didn’t have a history of violent behavior, then that too would keep me from pulling a gun on this person. I don’t know. You’re correct, more questions than answers. Maybe a follow-up post would be in order to tell your readers how this case turned out a year or two later? Again, so sorry about this. What a tragedy on so many levels. AND thank you for educating me on the basics of bi-polar disorder. I really didn’t know.

    Jason

    Reply
  26. Anders Bergstrom

    I know this comes late, but I just found out today of Bart’s passing.
    I was two years behind Bart in High School. We weren’t friends per say, as age wise we didn’t hang out in the same groups, but Bart did have a big impact on me.
    I remember being a Freshman, and the intimidation I felt with all the older kids. Not that anyone was actually intimidating bully-wise, but just the feeling of being little comparatively. Bart was different than the other older students in that he always said “hi” to me. He was always so nice to me. I really looked up to him. In a time where most kids relish in playing the age card with younger students, he actively engaged with me, asking how my day went…joking with me as if I were any one of his fellow class mates.
    I am truly saddened to hear this news. Bart embodied for me what a “Cool guy” was, and his personality informed how I treated people in my own life, and what I wanted people to see in me as a good human.He was all of that and more.
    I am so sorry for your loss,
    Sincerely,
    Anders Bergstrom
    Lincoln High School 94′

    Reply
    • Boss Mom

      Anders, thanks so much for your kind note. We’ve been so blessed to receive many messages like yours from friends of Bart’s. It’s really gratifying to know he touched so many lives. We miss him very much.

      Reply

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