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Monday, September 8, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Loukaitis' Mother Says She Told Son Of Plan To Kill Herself

AP

The mother of a teenager who fatally shot a teacher and two of his junior-high classmates testified today she told him about a plan to commit suicide just weeks before the shootings.

JoAnn Phillips, mother of Barry Loukaitis, told a King County Superior Court jury that she told her son of an elaborate plan to confront his father, Terry Loukaitis, and her husband's girlfriend at their home in Ellensburg, and then kill herself. She never went through with the plan.

The conversation took place after she filed for divorce from Loukaitis in January 1996, less than a month before the ninth-grader, then 14, took a rifle to Moses Lake's Frontier Junior High and shot four people.

Three died - classmates Manual Vela and Arnold Fritz, both 14, and algebra teacher Leona Caires. Natalie Hintz, then 13, survived but has not recovered full use of her right arm and hand.

"I told him I was going to go to Ellensburg, tie his father and his girlfriend up in the basement in chairs," Phillips told the court.

"Terry would never listen to me - I was going to make them listen to how they made me feel. . . . I would have a gun and they wouldn't know if I was going to shoot them but at the end . . . I was going to shoot myself," she said.

Phillips said she told her son he could go live with her mother or oldest son after her death.

Her son was upset at her proposal, she testified. "He was sad and he was worried . . . he told me not to do it."

Loukaitis watched as his mother took the stand to open the defense case. She did not meet his eye.

Phillips said her son had been a bright and happy boy until he reached junior high, when her marriage began breaking up. She and her son moved to an apartment in Moses Lake.

"Barry was really upset that I was upset all the time," she said. He withdrew, spending more time in his room, sleeping and watching videos and reading, she said.

Loukaitis, now 16, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Lead attorney Mike Frost says Loukaitis suffers from bipolar affective disorder, also called manic-depressive illness - a hereditary problem that afflicted five previous generations of the family.

Phillips said she has been diagnosed with the illness and twice has attempted suicide. She said she would frequently confide in her son about her marital problems and "he would just listen."

"I was worried about him, but I was so depressed then . . . I didn't pay that much attention," she said.

Loukaitis is being tried as an adult and would face life imprisonment if convicted of three counts of aggravated first-degree murder, one count each of attempted murder and second-degree assault, and 16 counts of kidnapping.

Prosecutors are seeking to add a "deadly-weapon enhancement" to each count, which would add five years to the penalty for each crime.

His trial was moved to Seattle because of concerns about extensive media coverage in Grant County, 130 miles east.

The boy's unrecognized illness - and other factors, including the breakdown of his parents' marriage - combined to cause a "psychotic, delusional state" in which Loukaitis was unable to realize the nature and quality of his acts, Frost said Friday after Grant County Prosecutor John Knodell rested the people's case.

"There were a lot of elements," Frost said. "Mental disease was part of it, and traumatic events that occurred" shortly before the attack.

Loukaitis was and still is a "sick kid," he said, though the boy now takes lithium, a drug that is considered particularly helpful in dealing with the manic phase of his illness.

Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (1993) defines "manic" as a mood state "characterized by excessive energy, poor impulse control, psychosis . . . and decreased sleep."

The defense case will mark the introduction of expert witnesses - from both sides - to testify about Loukaitis' mental state at the time of the killings.

Knodell contends the teen knew exactly what he was doing, and several prosecution witnesses spoke of his calm and control after he burst into his fifth-period algebra class, raised a .30-30 deer rifle to his shoulder and opened fire.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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