There was always that house that your mother told you to stay away from. The odd boxy house at the end of the street. The one where the dogs in the neighborhood wouldn’t even use the front lawn to relieve themselves. That house.
I wanted to sketch Nevada City’s version of that house only it was not a house but a madhouse. The former Nevada County Hospital. The hospital that most locals don’t want you to know about.
The original hospital was built in the 1860s and different wings were added to the main building over it’s lifetime. The building served many purposes over the years but the reason the structure in now infamous is because of a January 2001 shooting spree.
In 2001 the building housed the Nevada County Department of Behavioral Health when a patient, a former school janitor, who was suffering from mental health issues, entered the building and shot three people, two of whom died. He then drove to a Lyons Restaurant near Grass Valley and shot two more people because he thought that they were trying to poison him.
In all, he fired 20 shots from his semi-automatic pistol leaving three people dead. The killer was declared incompetent to stand trial and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He is currently at the Napa State Hospital for mentally ill patients.
There are no maintenance vehicles in the parking lot of a building that needs lots of maintenance. All the windows of the former hospital are boarded up.
Five years after the tragic events of January 10, 2001, the hospital closed it’s doors for good. The windows were boarded up and the doors locked and the the massive structure sits alone and abandoned, just off a two lane country road, across Highway 49 from downtown Nevada City.
It is hard not to think of the the ghosts of the past as I stood in front of the closed hospital. The structure must have many stories within it’s boarded up walls, some uplifting and happy and others quite tragic. These tales are all silent now and the only sounds I hear are the calls of red-breasted nuthatches and Stellar’s jays from the trees above.
If there was any good that came from the tragedy of January 2001, it was the creation of Laura’s Law, a law that assists outpatient treatment for the mentally ill. The law is named after Laura Wilcox, the first victim that was murdered at the hospital. She was a 19 year old intern who was working at the Department of Behavioral Health during her winter break from college.
Michael Moore’s 2002 Academy Award winning documentary about America’s gun violence epidemic, Bowling For Columbine, is dedicated to Laura Wilcox.