Judicial Branch Unit
Gus Deeds/Mental Health
Summary: Earlier this week, Bath County emergency response teams answered an early morning call from the cousin of State Senator Creigh Deeds. Upon reaching the scene, they discovered Senator Deeds suffering from several stab wounds to the chest and torso. They then travelled the short distance to Senator Deeds’ home, where they found his son, Gus, suffering from a critical gunshot wound. He died at the scene.
What exactly happened at the Deeds’ home remains unclear. So far it appears that Gus and his dad entered a disagreement sometime around 3 am; Gus then stabbed his father multiple times. While Senator Deeds hobbled to the home of his cousin, Gus realized what he had done and shot himself. The violent nature of Gus’s actions surprised many; he was widely loved for his gregarious personality, musical talent, and wisdom beyond his years. While Gus certainly seemed off now and again, he was never violent in word or action. Less than 24 hours before the tragic incident, Gus underwent a mental health evaluation with his father present at a mental center nearby. Though he was clearly suffering from great difficulty, the facility turned him away due to a “lack of beds.”
I met Gus Deeds for the first time five years ago as he picked on his beloved banjo. I was a third year camper at Nature Camp, and he was a first-year counselor after several years of being a camper himself. We bonded quickly over our mutual passion for folk music. I’m not sure how many summers I shared with Gus at Nature Camp, but I can count at least five. Some campers and counselors came and went. Nature Camp is a quirky place: some hate it, most love it, and some feel so inexplicably tied to the camp that it becomes part of one’s identity. The latter group, to which Gus and I belonged, tends to be a very close group of friends. It wasn’t about the George Washington National forest that surrounds the camp or the camp’s rich tradition that bound us together; instead we shared the dream of living in harmony with one another and the world around us.
Nature Camp just worked for us; there was no explaining it back then. The living conditions were miserable, but the atmosphere was perfection. We grew and acquired much of our food locally and bordered upon carbon neutrality. We were cut off from the world around us. We had no cell phones, no daily news, no TV’s, and no cars. Every time we drove past the ancient oak sign that bore faded ivory letters spelling “NATURE CAMP,” we not only left our lives but also our identities. Every year was a new start borne of the memories we had of this place. Everyone became the ideal and uninhibited versions of themselves. It was primordial.
I remember realizing that Gus was a rare friend the first time that I sat and played music with him. I sat furiously picking my acoustic guitar as our endless jam progressed from bluegrass to blues to jazz. I made lots of mistakes, but we kept going. I would look up from the fretboard occasionally to see where Gus was. He not once stared down at his banjo, he just watched what I was playing and reacted to it. He was teaching me how to improvise without losing control. I tried watching his fretboard instead of mine so that he might be able to lead some. His fingers took off faster than anything I had ever seen; he was a master.
On Tuesday November 19th, almost five months after my final session at Nature Camp, I sat on a couch in the senior lounge. I pulled up the BBC News website. Tucked beneath the headline story, a line read, “State Senator Stabbed, son confirmed dead.” It took a few minutes to process the article. I couldn’t link the violence to my friend. Gus was certainly uninhibited; however he was never violent in any way. Everything he had to say was constructive. I was shocked and crushed at the loss of my friend. Within an hour I was either on the phone or Facebooking 14 other close friends from camp. One friend who is currently a counselor stated, “At the beginning of the summer, when I arrived at Nature Camp, Gus and his dad were unloading Gus’s things from their car. When they were done, Gus gave his dad a hug and said “see ya, pops.” As his dad drove away, Gus stood on the road and looked at his dad’s car as he drove away and said “I love that man.” We couldn’t understand why we had lost our friend this way. It didn’t seem real.
One of the last things I remember that Gus said to me was the only negative thing I had ever heard him say. At the time, I was sitting on grass in a tight circle of five friends I had known for over 8 years. Gus walked over and blankly said, “Are yall’ the cool kids?” In Nature Camp lingo, this was a derisive insult that suggested exclusive and cruel behavior. I did not understand his upset; thus I felt especially hurt. I had known Gus for years by then, so why the personal insult?
On Tuesday afternoon, a wave of new articles flooded the internet. Gus had undergone psychiatric analysis less than 24 hours before his death. He was sick; yet every single mental facility in Central and Western Virginia turned him away due to “a lack of beds.” Shock turned to anger, anger turned to grief, and finally grief subsided to loss.
As I lay in my bed Tuesday night, my thoughts drifted from Aurora all the way to Gus’s small home in bath county. The state of our nations mental health care is in disrepair. As I contemplated how Gus’s friends from camp might combat this issue and justify his death, I began to understand that sharp statement Gus made as I sat in my tight circle. He wasn’t attacking my personality, he was just reminding me to analyze what I was doing. There were no gaps in our circle for new people to join, and he wanted to sit with us.
The last time I ever saw Gus, I gave him a bear hug. I am grateful for that final moment, but I am more grateful for what he taught me that day as I sat in the circle. It is easy to be swept away by people, conversations, and everyday life, but I must always remember to reach out to my friends and strangers.Had someone done so, Gus might still be alive. I must always save a place in the circle for the unexpected friend. In that way, places like Nature Camp will remain special well beyond my lifetime. In that way, people will continue to experience the miracle of music. In that way, I can honor Gus’s legacy.