(Oct. 17, 2012) It has been a decade today since the tragic death of 11-year old Gregory Katsnelson, who was killed by Ronald Pituch, a man with untreated schizophrenia. Pituch killed his mother, who unsuccessfully attempted to get help for her son, and then murdered Gregory in the woods near his home.
Gregory’s death has left both an irreparable loss and a significant legacy.
On days like today, we are reminded of the importance of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) laws that allow people with mental illness to get the care they need before a tragedy occurs.
Since Gregory’s death, his parents, Cathy and Mark Katsnelson, have worked as tireless leaders in the fight for AOT for individuals with mental illness, and they have turned their pain into something positive. Driven to prevent tragedies like the one they suffered, the Katsnelsons’ persistent advocacy drove the passage of SB 735 (“Gregory’s Law”). The legislation created an option for court-ordered community treatment (New Jersey’s term for assisted outpatient treatment) for individuals, like Pituch, with severe mental illness and a history of non-compliance with treatment.
After considerable delay in fully implementing the law, the New Jersey Department of Human Services last summer awarded the first contracts to five behavioral health providers to begin creating the state’s AOT law in Burlington, Essex, Hudson, Union and Warren counties.
Thank you to the Katsnelsons for their courage and tenacity in working to improve the lives of people with severe mental illness and their communities.