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A packaged warning? Psychiatrist protocol when receiving threats from patients

By HERWriter
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Written by Loren Grush

About a week before the tragic massacre that occurred at a Colorado movie theater last Friday, James Holmes, the alleged gunman in the shooting, mailed a key piece of evidence to a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado Anschutz.

Inside the package was a chilling surprise – a notebook “full of details about how he was going to kill people,” a law enforcement source told FoxNews.com. Images in the book’s pages included drawings of gun-wielding stick figures as well illustrations of the impending massacre, the source said.

However, the package remained unopened for as long as a week before it was discovered on Monday, taking away the opportunity for a potential warning prior to Friday’s tragic events.

But the question still remains: If the package had been opened, what could the psychiatrist have done?

According to the experts, it depends on a number of factors – including whether Holmes was a patient of the psychiatrist who received the notebook.

“If the person receiving the package was not his doctor, then that person had no obligation than do anything other than immediately call the police,” Dr. Michael First, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, told Fox News.com. “There’s no doctor-patient confidentiality between them if that’s the case.”

It has not yet been verified if the intended recipient of Holmes’ package had been treating Holmes or if they had even had previous contact with one another. However, Holmes is a recent drop out of the school’s neuroscience department and studying various mental health issues was part of his curriculum.

According to Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team, if a psychiatrist’s patient discusses a plan to do harm to someone during a therapy session, then the medical professional has a legal obligation to take action.

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