On Aug. 7, Brian Lewis lost his brother, Hamilton rock star Gord Lewis, and — in many ways — his nephew Jon Lewis as well.
It was the day last summer that Gord, 65, was found dead in his apartment. His son Jon was later charged in the killing.
The Teenage Head guitarist’s death in Hamilton shook the city and the music world, but hit Brian’s family harder than anyone else.
“We’re devastated,” he said.
“There were so many conflicting emotions and thoughts … we miss him and Jonny,” Lewis told CBC Hamilton.
Months later, in December, Jon was found not criminally responsible for the killing because of his mental state.
CBC Hamilton also previously reported on Jon’s mental health issues. He lives with schizoaffective disorder, according to Brian.
The killing is seemingly an exception to the rule as numerous studies, including a 2013 study from the American Public Health Association, indicate people with diagnosed mental disorders rarely commit violent acts.
Jon’s family and his lawyer say this is a case of someone falling through the cracks and being unable to find support.
With Jon in a hospital indefinitely and Gord dead, Brian and others are trying to pick up the pieces of their fractured family.
“The family is split as to their attitudes toward what happened and it’s pretty devastating to our unit,” Brian told CBC Hamilton after the court ruling.
There’s also a chance, Brian said, for the family to bring awareness to people in similar situations to Jon.
Jon tried to get medical care last summer
Dr. Joseph Carl Ferencz testified in court in late December. The expert in forensic psychiatry completed Jon’s assessment report during his stay at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton after killing Gord.
The court heard Jon, 42, has a history of mental illness that began around the time he was 30. He wound up in St. Joseph’s several times in the years before the killing.
Ferencz said Jon wasn’t regularly taking medication and hadn’t had psychiatric care in a year leading up to the killing.
He said Jon had increasingly intense delusions in the weeks before Gord died. Ferencz said Jon believed people were taking control of his father and his dad was poisoning him with anthrax.
That year, Gord also indicated Jon was “losing touch with reality” and was getting concerned Jon might harm him.
Ferencz said Jon became “extremely distressed and his delusions became all encompassing” around July 28, which led Jon to make 10 attempts to get care at emergency rooms from that day to Aug. 4.
Three of those attempts were at St. Joseph’s, but the court heard he either declined a bed in crisis care or left before being assessed.
Six other attempts were at different hospitals across the Greater Toronto Area where he sought medication for anthrax poisoning. He also ended up at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre on Aug. 1, but eventually got discharged.
It fed into Jon’s delusions, and he started believing the group of people trying to kill him were connected to the hospitals, Ferencz said.
Uncle took Jon in before killing
Brian said that in the week leading up to Gord’s death, Jon sent Brian “desperate pleas for help.”
Gord’s brother said he brought Jon to his home, and they stayed up for most of the night.
Brian said they were set to visit a clinic together the next morning, but Jon opted to go home instead.
“The last I heard from him was a note from him on Friday saying, ‘I love you uncle Brian,'” Brian said.
“I replied and the next thing was, Sunday night, the police showed up at my apartment.”
Court heard the Hamilton Spectator contacted police on Aug. 7 after Jon sent a chain of incoherent emails to local media, including CBC Hamilton, stating his father was dead and decaying.
When officers visited the apartment at 175 Catharine St. S., they spoke to Jon and found Gord’s body.
An autopsy determined Jon stabbed Gord 43 times.
Ferencz said Jon hadn’t left the apartment because he was still dealing with delusions that made him think someone would try to kill him. Jon also didn’t call the police because he thought they were involved in the supposed plot to kill him.
Now, Jon is incarcerated in hospital indefinitely. Larissa Fedak, Jon’s lawyer, said it’ll be years before Jon is discharged.
Family wants to raise mental health awareness
Brian said the situation has driven him and his wife to want to try to raise mental health awareness in some way.
“My wife in particular is passionate about doing something. How that looks, we don’t know yet … I don’t know about a silver lining, but it might do something, ” he said.
Brian also has a broader message for the public.
“If someone lives with someone who experiences and opens up about any mental health illness, take it seriously. Learn about it, talk to the person, research so you can educate yourself and advocate for that person,” he said.
“When doing so, don’t stop pushing, and when you think you’ve given up, you think you’ve exhausted yourself, you take one more step … because you just don’t know what the other person is going through.”
If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, there is help out there:
- In the Hamilton area, visit hamilton.ca/CYmentalhealth for resources or call Hamilton at 905-570-8888.
- The Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca.
- COAST — 905-972-8338 or Toll Free: 1-844-972-8338.